The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm
This is a play-by-post game that we are playing over at the campaign's site at the Obsidian Portal. After the first week, I thought it was coming along really well, so we're sharing it here.
5th of Elient, Year of the Prince, 1357, Dale Reckoning
The Dalelands are still recovering from the war that autumn, in which Lashan of Scardale had attempted to rise up and unite the dales under his iron fist. The Dalelands are a confederacy of villages and towns ruled by heroes, tomb robbers and free folk. Lashan found these people were not easily conquered and his army was routed.
The Time of Troubles are still a year away.
On the outskirts of Highmoon is an old, rickety cottage. A great weeping willow sweeps over the roof, keeping it cool in the summers and seeming to cradle it, holding in its warmth during the winter. At the foot of the willow is a gravemarker for Geruth, a Highmoon-born wizard.
The tombstone has the wizard’s name engraved on it and reads, “Here in beautiful Highmoon do I put down my book and my staff.”
Inside the cottage, Hal Whitewyrm and his love, Nasharel, are speaking a hushed whisper.
“I do feel a pull to the west, love. The King and Queen have called their subjects to Evermeet. Even now they are taking their leave of the great citadels in the Cormanthor. But I also feel a pull towards justice. I think of others in Zhentarim chains and do not think I could find fulfillment singing on the elven isles.”
There is some tension in the room. She feels the pull to Evermeet and as of yet, Hal has not, despite his elven blood. She goes to the fire and pours them both mint tea, taking from his mother’s old garden, now overgrown and wild.
They sip tea in silence for a while and she breaks the silence abruptly. "What does your heart tell you? If you wish to live out the rest of your days singing songs in the local inn and earning enough of your keep to mend this cottage, I will stay with you for a time but you know that if that is your destiny, one morning you will awake and find me gone.
“But there are other options.
“I know you two did not have the bond of family that you would have liked but I heard that your cousin has gotten a charter for an adventuring company, calling themselves the Knights of Highmoon. They are planning on going into the dark heart of Cormanthor and confronting whatever ills stir there. I know he has Geruth’s apprentice, now a full wizard grown but without solid guidance they might get hurt. There are worse things than simple gnolls in the dark heart of Cormanthor.
“They say that Daggerdale is still home to Zhentarim spies. That might be a place to start looking for Xerez and his ilk.
“And we could use this time to learn, to grow, find tutors and barter our way to better knowledge.
“Do you wish us to part and go our own ways for a while, agreeing to meet in a year’s time when we have walked the Realms a while, meeting again to tell the other what we have seen? Or is there some other path that you see with your father’s beautiful orange eyes that I have not considered?”
Sipping the mint tea, I gaze into the wall, into the distance, into years past.
“I lost my way. We have spent so many years surviving that this past year in Highmoon has been like a dream, hazy and blurry. You are right, my love: I cannot simply sit idly at the inn anymore.
“I do not feel the pull to the west, and that fills me with grief for it means that whatever is elven in me is weak, unconnected. And I cannot take three steps in this house without thinking of my mother and those who ended up like her.
“It is time to take action.”
I take Nasharel’s hand in mine, squeeze it gently, draw strength from it.
“I ache to repay the Zhentarim for their villany,” I say, my other hand placed over my mother’s flute, tucked in my vest, "but I will not be the foolish boy who runs to kill the dragon with a stick.
“I will put my pride aside and seek Nethanel out this very moment. If he is heading deep into Cormanthor, perhaps we could join him. I am sure that with four of us we could brave the dark shadows and perhaps find those of the people still guarding the forest, and with them information and maybe a mentor.”
Abruptly I get up, down my tea and kiss Nasharel fully, deeply. Without another word I stride out, grabbing my sword as I exit the door, heading straight for the Leaves of Learning by way of the High Market. Perhaps a warm apple pastry will sweeten Nethanel’s disposition today.
Brother Nethanel and his newly chartered adventuring party are set up in a comfortable scholar’s nook in the Leaves of Learning. Books Nethanel has gathered about journies into Cormanthor and pre-elven ruins that had been raided in the past hundred years are on the nearby shelves along with some rare copied scrolls concerning Mulhorand. Maps and scrolls more immediately relevant to their expedition are on the table and an apple pastry, smelling of cinnamon and apples sits on the table, still hot from the nearby baker’s oven.
Before the pastry had been placed on the table, the holy archivist was lecturing on the colonies of the once great nation of Mulhorand and the imperial tendencies of its nigh-immortal god-kings and god-queens. While entering the Leaves of Learning, holy hall of Oghma, Hal could hear his cousin talking about the likelihood of an ancient Mulhorand crypt in the areas now settled by elves, how the elves likely built over the ancient structures, wanting to keep an eye on them and study another species of quasi-immortals. He was about to explain his evidence concerning the Statues that Walk and his thesis that they had once trampled Cormanthor beneath their gargantuan metal feet when Hal walked in and placed the delicious apple pastry on the table.
“There is no food in the Library Temple, cousin. The crumbs draw rats and the rats destroy scrolls and tomes. But other than vandalizing of Oghma’s blessings, what brings you here? I am obligated by church law and doctrine to ask if you need any information. So, do you need any information, how might Oghma bless you with his learning through his most humble of vessels at your service?” Nethanel manages to sneer through every word, even the holy question of Oghma.
(NOTE: If putting the pastry on the table or bringing it into the temple is something Hal would never do, let me know and I’ll revise. I don’t want to put actions on you…needless to say, your cousin would have been a dick no matter what. Had to google the Leaves of Learning, hope I got it close to your expectations)
(NOTE: No prob on those actions at all but I’ll keep that in mind. I imagine as we go along and we both get to know the characters better we’ll be able to get really good about knowing how they’d act. Also, if I mention another actual setting location I’m not making up, I’ll link you to it.)
Supressing the desire to insult him back, I calmy (if a bit strained by the effort) reply, “My apologies, cousin, but I did see these pastries were freshly done and I know how much you enjoy them. I would suppose the Temple of Oghma would have magical means to keep vermin away as well.”
Ignoring my cousin’s glare and sneer, I continue. “I do have a reason to seek you, Nethanel. I know our bonds of kinship have been tense this past year but I would like to see that ended. You are family, the only one I have at that, and family is one of the few things worth fighting for. And precisely because of that, I would seek your approval for me and Nasharel to join your newly-formed company on your expedition into the heart of Cormanthor. You know I’m good with a blade, as well as having some knowledge of ancient symbols—though clearly not as much as you,” I say, trying my darned best to sound honest and flattering, “which might be helpful. Lastly, I have some practical knowledge of the road which surely will come in handy once we—you—leave Deepingdale behind.”
I wait, letting the monologue sink in, knowing full well this is a stretch, but hoping it is enough.
Also standing round the table is a portly wizard in threadbare traveling robes and a raccoon familiar on his shoulder and a hedge knight dame leaning on a Cormyrish-style silver shield with the constellation of the Wanderer in yellow starbursts.
They wince at the archivist’s words and look uncomfortable at being in the midst of what they can only guess is a family feud.
Nethanel takes out a scroll, the newly notarized charter for the Knights of Highmoon. “Well, cousin, we only have room for a trio of full-fledged adventurers in our charter as written.”
The wizard tries to speak, nodding his head eagerly but the archivist speaks over him. “However, we do have room for you and your mistress,” he hisses the word, making his disapproval at your unmarried living arrangement plain, “if you two would be a hireling or henchmen for the Knights of Highmoon. You’d be responsible for guiding the donkeys, striking camp and tapping ten-foot-poles in cramped tunnels. The pay is a modest percentage of what we bring back and we will provide food and water during our expedition, of course. Henchmenry for adventuring parties is hard work but honest and paid in kind…slavery has no place in the Dalelands, of course.”
The lady-knight’s jaw drops in shock, the wizard exhales as if punched and the raccoon hisses at the last sentence.
(NOTE: At this point, you can take his deal and go as henchmen, in which you will earn some artha for your belief about family, or you can enter into a Duel of Wits and I dunno, try to get written into the charter as full partners or somethin’. I’m happy to discuss the DOW in italics here and suss it out, as it would be our first.
I you just want to make a single roll for it and not script the full DoW, we could also do that. The Persuasion ob would be 4 and I’d likely give you helping dice from the knight and the wizard, though you don’t have Persuasion, so the ob would be 8 for Beginner’s Luck, BWG, page 49-50.
Speaking of artha, let’s start you with 2 Personna and 2 Fate as befits a high fantasy, swashbuckling romantic romp. )
I keep my face as blank as possible and remind myself of the greater picture.
“I accept (I wait a bit until I see the flicker of smugness cross his face) but I would request that perhaps if and when Nasharel and I have proven our usefulness, we all (I gesture at all assembled at the table) reconsider the matter of full membership. I believe it is only the proper and honorable thing to do.”
I let him have the last word if he wants.
Of course your cousin wants the last word. “Oghma, the Binder, considers your music a blessing and a boon. Should your skills add to His grace, we will discuss it as the charter dictates and have a vote.”
“A vote indeed!” the wizard breaks the dismal mood. “Welcome to the fellowship, my friend. I am Dimon but please do not let the Thayan name fool you. I am not Red Wizard, trained in Cormyr, though not adept enough to train at the War Wizards’ College. This is my martial sister, Dame Alynna, sure to take the Purple Dragons by storm once they open their eyes and notice her worth.”
Alynna looks embarrassed at her brother’s bluster. “Brother, you don’t have to explain your name to everyone we meet. None but a fool would think that you were a Red Wizard of Thay.”
“My sister’s right; I’m just nervous, this being my first adventure. I trained with Geruth for a while, learned me the basics of Arcane Symbology, he did. I should visit his grave, say a few words before we go.”
“But I’m sorry, I’m babbling. Just so happy to have a elves with us on our travels…like a storybook, isn’t it? You and your lady-friend are most welcome. And…how exactly are you and Nethanel related? Some distant half-elven uncle in the past centuries?”
Nethanel’s mouth tightens into a prim line. Alynna shakes her head. The raccoon snatches the pastry and begins eating it, holding on to the delicious morsel with both hands.
(NOTE: 1 Fate artha for Driving the game forward with a belief. Total 3 Fate, 2 Personna, 0 Deeds and that’ll be the last time I’ll tally artha, if you could mark that down somewhere, that’d be keen.)
I chuckle at the wizard’s introduction, bowing my head in acknowledgement of each.
“Dimon, we have both been apprenticed to Geruth, and he was no fool so I would never think you a Thayan Red Wizard. Dame Alynna, a pleasure as well.
“As for my kinship with Nethanel, our mothers were sisters. Ah, yes, Dimon, I’m half-elven. My mother was as human as you and lived here years ago. But please, be not disappointed, for my lady (and I stress the word in opposition to Nethanel’s pejorative) is indeed an elf,” I finish with a smile.
“Cousin, you won’t regret this. I must run some errands now and bear the good news back home, but please send word if you need to meet for any reason or whenever we are set to leave. I will be ready.”
As I leave the hall I turn around to Dimon. “Geruth now rests near my house, just outside the gates. Nethanel can give you directions. Please do visit before we depart. I’m sure the old man would appreciate it.”
I leave the Temple, a small smile on my face, and head back to the house to tell Nasharel the news.
It is almost dawn by the time Hal returns to the cottage. Nasharel is sleeping outside in the arms of the willow. She smiles as he approaches, early morning birds are starting to chirp while nocturnal owls still give their last hoots.
“How did it go, Master Whitewyrm?” she asks sleepily.
It takes my breath away, to see her like that.
“My cousin was as charming as I expected him to be, but I thought of the greater picture and ceded to him. We are to join his expedition as ‘hirelings,’ performing the upkeep tasks we’re so used to from being on the road. If, WHEN we prove our true worth, the company will vote to give us full membership. There’s two others, Dimon, once apprentice to Geruth as well, and his sister Alynna, a warrior. They were equally charmed by my cousin’s attitude toward us, so I think we’ll have their help when the time comes.
“I will be the model of civility towards Nethanel, I promise,” I say as I see her smirk. “Come, let us prepare our gear. I have a feeling my cousin is far eager to leave than any of us.”
She raises a single eyebrow.
(Note: If there’s anything you want to do around town, anything you want to purchase before you go or what-have-you, now’s the time to do so, I reckon.)
“I let him have that one,” I say with a smile.
(I assume that our Traveling Gear will have all the necessary equipment to head back on the road. I also assume Nethanel will take care of all expedition equipment for the party. My only real concern here would be for mounts, or at least one we can share if two are too costly. Beyond that, I make sure all our equipment and weapons are at the ready.)
(Mounts are expensive. Want a scene at the local stable? Otherwise, yer leading a mule. Mind you, only the Alynna has a legit warhorse. The wizard and the archivist are riding normal horses. If you don’t want to try to buy a horse – ob 4, I’ll take us to the start of the journey. Don’t just make a roll, if you want the horse, let me know and we’ll set it up at the stable.)
(A mule will be fine for carrying stuff, I reckon. The one other thing I would like to have is my own map of the area so I can keep notes of interest to me and not necessarily to Nethanel’s expedition. The High Market might be a place to find such an item, or the Caravan Grounds outside town for the more rowdy shopping experience. Both these locations are on the Highmoon map. Maybe I can also catch whatever gossip is out there about going ons in the forest.)
The Open Market is full to bursting. The merchants are eager to unload their goods before the autumn rains turn the roads to mud.
The maps of the Cormanthor are fairly plentiful but they are also filled with blank spaces, leading would-be adventurers to the main trails so they can find their way back home, with X markers to note the obelisks left by the elves to warn travelers of the parts of the forest where the sun does not penetrate to the forest floor. These areas are known as Anor Dagnir, sun bane, or in the particularly sunless regions, Ungol Anir, spider gate. These maps are drawn on heavy goat’s skin (ob 1).
An adventuring company, their banner naming them as the The Hunt, have a cart set up, their charter present for inspection in case of any trouble. The roguish fellow hawking wares has a black hand dyed over the heart of his leather armor and more knives than one could easily count. He hawks a bit and then complains to his comrade, a powerful anvil of a woman, head shaved, kitted out in well-worn plated leather with a warhammer on her hip and a shield on her back.
“Quality elven goods, fresh out of the lost city of Myth Drannor!”
She corrects him quietly, “Vale of Lost Voices, Blackhand.”
“Fresh out of the Vale of Lost Voices! Quality ELVEN artifacts rescued from the VILE claws of MURDEROUS GNOLLS! See what the immortals have left behind as they head into the West!” His tone turns to quiet complaining to his warrior friend. “All I’m saying, Vor, is I can be trusted with the damned cart. I perpetrated the noble Maskish trade in Westgate, not here, there’s no guild here, its the damned frontier to nowhere.”
While keeping an eye on the crowd, Voras responds casually, muscled arms crossed, “More hawking, less debating. When Shass trusts you, we’ll trust you. Until then, keep hawking and I’ll back you up. Think of it as company during a dreary duty.”
Behind them is a tapestry with the Whitewyrm crest on it and on the section they have unrolled, you see an elven sword-singer, blade in hand, confronting the consorts of Tiamat, vicious male dragons of each chromatic shade.
“Might has well have gotten a legit day job. ELVEN ARTIFACTS! FRESH FROM CORMANTHOR!.”
“Fresh, Blackhand? Really? Its not cabbage.”
“Might as well be for as many are buying.”
I pick up one of the Cormanthyr maps and approach the Hunt’s cart, casually eyeing all their wares first, picking up small trinkets and putting them down after a quick examination. I nod and greet with a “Good morrow” both the hawkish man and the muscular woman. After a couple of minutes of silent examination, I ask the prices of a couple of smaller items, nodding noncommittally at whatever figure they mention.
“So, the Vale of Lost Voices, eh? Whew, that’s deep in the forest, for sure. Do you know where these items came from, where you found them? For example, that tapestry in the back. What can you tell me about where it came from and how much is it?”
At the same time, I am also trying to recall if the black hand painted on the man’s leather armor means something. I have a feeling it does, but what…
Analyze the Blackhand, Streetwise, ob 2, Symbology is about arcane symbols, so you can’t FoRK that in.
The warrior casually steps back, letting her rogue companion do his thing. "This fine tapestry, here, noting the history of the elves in their battles against Tiamat’s consorts is quite relevant given the Cult of the Dragon’s activities of late. Our own party leader thought to keep it so that our wizards and sorcerers could analyze it, pick it clean of some useful history. But times are rough and autumn is fading to winter and the Hunt wants to hit Old Myth one more time before we’re snowed in.
“So, it is your lucky day, Lord Elf. 600 gold pieces (ob 6 Resources test) will get you this tapestry for your very own citadel’s walls.”
(He got 1 success on his haggle check. Roll your Haggle to beat that. This is a versus test, only I rolled first. Alternatively, you could try to get some loans, throw artha at the roll and try to hit an ob 6 resources test.)
The warrior, Vorass the Maul, smirks.
(Streetwise roll: 4,4. Haggling roll: 5,3 [traitor!]. Spend 1 Fate artha to re-roll: 4,5. [I’m at work without the book so if I misremembered the use of that Fate artha let me know and I’ll adjust the action. I’ll double-check when I get home later.])
“You tell a good tale, but I can tell from the look if the material that this tapestry has been out in the open for some short time, probably plenty of time for you to have examined it as needed, thus making its sale not so much of a sacrifice.
“It does, however, interest me, so I’d like to offer you 300 gold for it. Still quite a good sum for such a piece.”
Artha doesn’t work that way, so the Haggling is a tie and keep that Fate point. But…two successes on the Streetwise roll.
Hal remembers hearing about the Blackhands, might have even had a drink with some of their hired knives back in Ravens Bluff back in his dueling days. They were a gang, known for violence and daring more than cunning and guile. Word around the street was that they had messed with the wrong wizard and were wiped out to the last member. From the Blackhand being over the rogue’s heart…maybe a member who got away or a little brother not deemed worth the effort to kill at the time?
Haggling is a tie, one success a piece, so 1st round of 3, the price stays the same. Haggling Round 2:
“300 gold? At 600 it stays, Master Elf. 300 gold would barely keep us in iron rations through your harsh Dale winters. I’d think that elven weave-work would be worth more to that among their own kin. Was your mother a weaver and this weaver her rival? Are you trying to drive this rival’s tapestry’s prices down all over Faerun from Westgate to the City of Splendors? Am I a part of a larger elven weaving scheme that my mortal mind cannot comprehend?”
2 success on his Haggling.
“Elven work? I’m not so sure. Are you sure that it isn’t your mother who is the weaver, good sir? Are you here, in a city ruled by a man with elven blood, trying to pass off dear old mum’s humble mortal work as the work of the Suns and Daughters of the Moon and Stars whose songs brought the world into existence at the dawn of time?”
Nasharel says this with her brow furrowed, shaking her head theatrically, arm around your hips.
She gives you a helping die with Falsehood, the tapestry is clearly elven. I like this dame. If you want to put a personna point on the roll, just make that decision before you roll. After you roll all you can do is have a Fate point explode 6’s or use a Deeds to re-roll all traits or use a Call-on trait.
I chuckle after Nasharel’s words. “See, my good man, you can’t fool a daughter of the People. It’d be like trying to cover the sun with a black hand! Nay, it’s a good piece of work, but I do think that 300 is a fair price to pay for it. It isn’t as if anyone would pay that for a head of cabbage.”
(Haggling + Falsehood helping die + 1 Persona artha: 4,4,4,2 = 3 successes.)
Winning the Haggling test not only logs you a Haggling test, don’t forget to mark ‘em, but it knocks the price down 1 ob level. We’ll go 3 rounds, unless you’re fine with trying for an ob 5 test but fair warning, he could win and drive the price back up.
“500 gold, then, Master of the Moon and Stars (5 ob resources test) but only because it brings the cold, mercenary, adventurers’ hearts of The Hunt some joy to see ancient art brought back to its own people. Even if it was brought from the clutches of vile hyena men who worshiped a demon-god of blood and murder.”
I’m holding off on his Haggle roll until you tell me if you want to go for that third and final round. We could’ve done a Duel of Wits too but I think that time has passed.
If you do go for another round, you can feel that Nasharel will help you.
I look at him, then at the tapestry, then back at him. I do this a couple times, extending the pause almost to annoyance. But just almost. I feel Nasharel squeeze me, egging me on. I go for it.
“I feel for a fellow adventurer. Let us agree on 400, perhaps? You’d have the gold you need for your company and I’d lighten your load one heavy tapestry. Come on, good man. It’s the middle of the day and you’ve moved nothing here, and ’tis a fair offer we make. Shall we be agreed?”
“That’s more than a fair price for this decorative would-be-elven rug, I think,” Nasharel adds, nonchalantly. “We’d be doing you a favor lest a less tolerant elf caught sight of it and decided you had insulted his honor. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
(Haggling roll + helping die: 6,1,5,4 – I am so going to pay for this with low rolls later on!)
Nasharel glares at both party members of The Hunt who are present, “The Marker you have surely seen on your way to Myth Drannor, erected by the elves to give humans permission to settle these lands and cull our forests is very specific as to looting and theft of elven artifacts.”
She helps you with a History skill.
3 successes for the Blackhand! :):):):). Tie. The price stands.
He looks over at Vorass and she shakes her head. “I’m sorry, friends but 5 hundred gold (5 ob resource test) is as low as I can go. We have storage in the Dalelands and do not mind putting it somewhere dry and safe until we can ship it to Westgate, Waterdeep or perhaps a city in Sembia or Cormyr where this could go for real coin. The price stands.”
They back off, allowing you and your lady-friend to discuss the matter.
Nasharel says, “I could loan you some gold (1 helping die) if that helps.”
Dammit, I think to myself, trying not to betray my angry disappointment. Okay, Hal, think. Think hard – is there any way you can gather up that gold? I could seek a loan from my cousin… And I know exactly what he’d say. Nasharel will help, bless her heart. Is there any way… Maybe some coins stashed around the house? The inn does owe me for a couple of nights’ entertainment, too. Maybe I can find some trinkets I can sell…
I really want this tapestry; it could be a clue to my father, and even if it isn’t directly so, it still has a tie to him, to his clan… to my clan.
It’ll be hard—challenging—but there might just be a way…
(I go for the Resources roll. I have B2 + 1 helping die from Nasharel + 1 Persona artha I’m throwing at this. That’ll be 4 dice. I realize well that the only way this will happen is if I can roll four successes and at least one 6 that I can then use 1 Fate artha on to open it up.
I’m either getting this, or failing miserably. Here we go:
Roll: 4d6 = 6[d6]5[d6]5[d6]+4[d6]
Spending 1 Fate artha on that 6 [I currently have 2 Fate/0 Persona artha]…
Roll 1d6 = 4[d6]
[I am hereby setting aside 3d6 as an offering to Tymora. For real. I also realize that from now all my rolls will be teh suXXor. I’m okay with that.]
Final: 5 successes)
I accept Nasharel’s offer of a loan, wrack my brain and decide that yes, I can gather that much gold by this afternoon.
“Very well,” I tell he of the Blackhand, "today indeed you are the Master of the Hunt. Five hundred gold it is. I will make two small requests of you, however.
“The first, that you allow me until sundown to gather the money; it isn’t like I’m a fat Sembian merchant, laden with gold as he strolls to the privy. I should have no problem in securing it and returning by then to claim the tapestry. The second, that on this map, you please mark the place as best you can where this piece was salvaged, err, rescued, from. Yes, odd, but it would help my own research into the piece.
“Are we agreed?”
Laelin Blackhand and Vorass the Maul introduce themselves, becoming more friendly now that the haggling is done. You all toast the transaction with Shadowdale brandy in tin cups from Vorass’ old campaigning days in a mercenary company. She offers up a crass toast concerning magical portals, demons and venereal diseases.
She slaps Laelin on the shoulder and says, “Agreed! Tell you what, Master Whitewyrm. The leader of our humble adventuring guild is a vicious pirate turned bloodthirsty mercenary turned heroic adventurer. I’m sure she’d love to meet you both. How about we seal this deal tonight, over dinner on The Hunt. Bring your gold and your appetite to the Oak and Spear and we’ll make our exchange, sup and tell tales until the dawn.”
Laelin agrees that this is a great idea. “Our captain does love having newcomers to dinner. Will you join us? Say you will, I’d hate to think a pair of fine elves were angry at me because I called your mother a weaver.”
I clasp each of their hands strongly (wincing slightly when Voras squeezes back). “That sounds like a magnificent evening. My beloved and I shall be there at the seventh bell and we shall seal our deal. I do look forward to meeting your leader and getting to know you worthy adventurers more. And worry not, Blackhand, for all I know my mother was indeed a weaver at one point or another, so no foul there.”
After finalizing plans with the adventurers, and map of Cormanthyr in hand, I walk back into town hand in hand with Nasharel. "I cannot thank you enough, my love. I know it’s a small glimmer of hope, but the Whitewyrm seal on that tapestry it’s too much to let go. I know we share our lives, but I do still thank you for your help in this transaction.
“I need to run some errands around town, gathering funds owed and such. I am tired from all that has transpired since last night, but I have too much excitement in me to sit still. We can meet home two bells hence, if you’d rather not walk all around Highmoon as I go about my business, though your company is always dear to me.”
Nasharel says nothing but takes your hands. Together, Hal and Nasharel walk around Highmoon one last time, saying good-bye to the town until their appointment at the seventh bell.
Anything else to be done or shall we do dinner?
Errands done, money collected, farewells said, Hal and Nasharel head back to their home to rest and prepare for tonight’s engagement.
Laelin Blackhand is sitting on a barrel at the door of the inn. “All day in the market and now I’m on the barrel, just my luck. Come in, friends, make yourselves at home. The captain will ring the dinner bell before too long.”
The Oak and Spear is an old comfortable inn, not the most posh in all of Highmoon but it is known for having a fine stew and good cider. True to its name, the Oak and Spear is made of stout oak taken from Cormanthor and over the door are two Daleland spears with tin beer mugs danging from the hafts with pieces of twine.
The Hunt has given the 2 story inn the atmosphere of a soldier’s camp. A Thayan girl, maybe 16 years old, is discussing the efficacy of over-hand knife throwing as opposed to an underhand-toss. Next to the outhouse, their target, a crude demon head drawn on the outhouse wood, is riddled with knives of all sizes and shapes. Several soldiers are watching from within, making half-hearted bets about who will hit the target and with what kind of throwing technique.
Armorer’s and weaponsmiths are being haggled with in the common room. A lanky wizard is discussing maps of Myth Drannor with two priests of Tempus; they are passing a pipe among them.
“Ah, the elves who bought the tapestry. Welcome, welcome. I’m Heldorm Umbrav, but call me Hel.” Hel has a nose that has been cut and broken, sitting like a crooked boulder on his bearded face. His beard is starting to go gray and it is the only hair on his otherwise bald head. He’s muscular but paunchy.
“I’d introduce you but we’re a big, unruly lot, to be honest. 14 of us, numbers have grown since the incident at Archendale and we had us a good spring. As you can see, we’re preparing to venture out again, Powers help us but I need it, a month in Highmoon has me going to fat.”
There are far more than 14 people in the Oak and Spear.
It is quickly apparent that there are far more than just the adventurers here. There are weaponsmiths and farmers, grooms and barrel-makers, fletchers and courtesans, lovers and distant cousins of the members of The Hunt written on their charter.
None the less, when the dinner bell rings, everyone else finishes up their business and takes their leave. Tables are pushed together so that everyone can eat together, at one giant table.
At the head of the table is Shasslan the Huntress, Captain of the Hunt. She is an imposing woman, broad shouldered, in a tunic and leggings that a Highmoon shepherd might wear. Her coffee colored skin suggests that she might have been born in Calimsham but there is nothing traditionally Calimshamni about her. Her hair is in a tight ponytail and her eyes seem to pierce every detail of the organized chaos her adventuring company makes all around her. Her full plate armor is behind her, on a stand. It is engraved with a scene of the Wild Hunt, with the horned Master of the Hunt blowing a horn and leading his hounds with a great helm with antlers crafted from mythril.
Mugs are passed around for a toast before sitting to dinner.
“We have guests,” Shasslan announces quietly, the room hushing to hear her. “Thank you for joining us, noble elves. Allow me to ask you to forgive us our table manners before we eat. Some adventurers are not yet fully housebroken. We have a tradition with guests. The wine is…Hel, what is it?”
“Sembian red, captain, from the Year of the Bright Blade.”
Shasslan nods. “There won’t be much Sembian Red where we’re going, I can tell you brigands that for nothing. I believe it was you, Master Whitewyrm, whose purchase has led you here. Would you do us the honor of a toast before dinner? When we have guests eat with us, we ask that they make the toast.”
Taking a moment to compose my thoughts, I stand up, mug in raised hand.
“A toast. To willing fools who venture out into the wilds of the world in search of fame and fortune, for without us this would be a dreary boring place. To those who seek out the secrets of the past and bring them out into the light of day once more, and for there being nothing wrong with making a small amount of coin from the task. To those who no doubt are beloved of Tymora, for how many are the dangers we escape from by the skin of our teeth where others simply do not. To friendships forged in battle, kisses stolen during travels, and songs sung to the glories of ages past and the feats of today and tomorrow. To you, to us, to adventure on the open road: there is nothing else like it in this fair world.”
Everyone gulps their wine and lets out a cheer.
Seats are grabbed up, stew is passed around, a goat is served and ale is poured. The meal is a loud, raucous family affair. The Hunt is an entirely human company, with one illusionist-wizard, three priests and the rest are a blend of thugs, warriors and cutpurses.
You catch references to other adventures: a series of connected Barrows in Sembia, a goblin warren in Cormyr and quickly changing the subject when Archendale is brought up.
Questions come and go easily, the company relaxes and puts away issues of rank and seniority during meals, it seems.
Shasslan the Huntress: “You spoke of adventuring with some fondness, Master Whitewyrm. Are you a part of a company in the Dalelands or is it a life that you look at from the outside?”
Orlin the Illusionist: “May I ask what interested you about that particular tapestry, Lord Elf?”
Nasharel is embroiled in a conversation about the dragon attacks two winters back, trading stories about where everyone was when the tragedy occur and considering theories about how the attacks were orchestrated and their deeper meaning.
Rather than back and forth, you post some questions and conversation seeds, I’ll post some questions and in the end, what we have might resemble a conversation, rather than posting back and forth and trying to talk over the forum.
“Adventuring was something that fell upon me by the whim of Beshaba,” I say to Shasslan. “In truth I have been a sedentary man only this past year, finally arriving at the hometown of my mother after what feels like a lifetime on the road. Before this, I, we, spent a few years as swords-for-hire in Raven’s Bluff. I tell you, throw a rock in that city and you’ll hit no less than twenty adventurers!” I say with a laugh, signaling for more wine to be poured in my mug.
“Still, it kept us fed and warm through the winters. And before that… Well, life on the road,” I mumble into my mug, taking a couple of deep swigs of wine, catching myself before saying too much. “But not, I seem to have stumbled into a new company that sets out into the forest soon enough, so I dine well here today, for who knows what fare the road will bring.”
“What about you all?” I ask Shasslan in return. “Where are you headed? Your master haggler spoke of spending winters in warmth but also of return trips into the ruins, so what is it?”
A few mugs of wine later…
“I am no Lord, Master Orlin, neither am I Elf. I am of two worlds, Elf and Human, and proud of both. As for the tapestry, well, now that I own it I can put aside all cheap talk about weave quality and all that.
“The truth is that the scene fascinates me. I have a personal interest in the history of the elven clans of the Cormanthor even as they begin to journey west, and this tapestry is too great a find to not have done all in my power to acquire. It isn’t every day you come across a part of the history of Clan Whitewyrm! I say, I should love to know the story of how that tapestry was recovered from the… wait, Master Blackhand, how did you put it? Ah yes… from the CLUTCHES OF VILE HYENA MEN WHO WORSHIPED A DEMON-GOD OF BLOOD AND MURDER!”
Shasslan: "The Blackhand talks too much, I think. We are in fact going out into the Cormanthor one more time, hoping to make it to Myth Drannor and back before the winter becomes deadly.
“As to dry and safe, I’m afraid that isn’t for us, necessarily but for our goods. Frankly, we have more than we can carry but not quite enough to purchase a proper Chapter House. So, we are renting a warehouse to store our goods, leaving some old veterans with a deck of cards, money for food and a few crossbows.”
Orlin: "Well, its a damned queer tale, I’ll tell you. The gnoll pack we tracked on our way south out of the Myth. We’d already had a nice haul from that spring delving, Tymora blessed us on that trip.
“We broke the first rule of adventuring and split the party, Captain’s idea, of course. The fastest of us, the ones who are no strangers to the forest took off after the gnolls while the rest got settled in a defensive position around our Myth Drannor treasures.
“Lost two henchmen, though, a shame, really; they were good lads. Damned gnolls would not rout. Turns out when the hyena-men panic, they attack, so even when we had them down to a few, there was no surrender, had to butcher ‘em. Felt like we were doing Bhaal’s dirty work than Tempus’ killing when you have to take to slaughtering enemies like that. Bastards would not rout! Powers above and powers below…just run when yer beat.
Buried the boys, there, as per the charter states: ‘We bury our dead where they died, as long as it does not endanger the still-living to do so’ about two days ride south of the Standing Stone."
With a mouth full of sweet potato, a henchmen named Kiv says, “Those gnolls were as strange as a Waterdahavian doxy on a festival day. I tell ya, something was odd.”
The illusionist grows quiet, trying to put thoughts of their drooling fangs and armor-crunching flails behind him.
Kiv continues, “No slaves, no one to sacrifice, with elven goods?” Kiv finishes chewing and continues. “Did anyone decode that parchment they had with ’em?”
Shasslan shakes her head. “No and a good thing. It looked like Zhent-code to me.”
Shasslan asks, “Who are you joining up with? I didn’t know there were that many other companies in town at the moment. What grand adventure do you have planned?”
“Master Orlinn, that is a most queer tale, I say. I know of the ferocity of the gnolls but to learn these so vicious they would not rout when beaten, that is indeed odd. Foul magics of the forest, perhaps? Some after-effect of a Myth Drannan curse? I shall keep your words in my ears as I journey north.
“Which, to answer your question, Dame Shasslan, we shall do with a newly chartered company, the Knights of Highmoon. My cousin, Nethanel, Archivist of Oghma, leads it. We number five, though due to family issues my beloved and I are not full members just yet. My cousin, he’s interested in exploring clues to a pre-elven civilization in Cormanthyr. I go in order to seek more information on Clan Whitewyrm and perhaps a lead to my elven heritage and family.
“To family, the one given us by the gods and the one we chose ourselves,” I say, raising another toast.
“Something caught my attention, I must say. You mentioned a parchment with Zhentish code?” I sneer the word as if it were sour milk in my mouth.
Master Orlin shakes his head. “Having asked around, the oddity is not in their inability to run. They are berserkers, it seems, given unholy strength by their demon-god of murder and prone to attack where most folk would stand and drool, beg for mercy or run. The oddity is that they would be transporting elven goods across the Cormanthor. I’m sorry, my emotional state when discussing such matters made my point muddled and unclear.”
Shasslan’s eyes narrow when you bring up your cousin and his adventuring party. “I hate to get between a family squabble but I would certainly put in a bid to buy your services from your cousin, take you on as provisional members with a charter vote in a year’s time concerning full membership. In five years, you could be officers, or sooner, Tempus willing.”
She continues, "As to the Zhents, yes, I believe they have put out a coded message among the orcs’ Servants of the Black Blood and the gnolls’ demon-god priests. I meant to burn it but also thought I might see if I could get it translated but have not had any luck in that matter and wonder if I should just destroy it so that it does not fall into the wrong hands. You have experience with the Zhentarim?
“If you were to join our band, the decoding of that message could be your first job for The Hunt if you can get it done before we leave for Myth Drannor.
Voices hush when she says this, a hint as to when they are leaving. She notices and raises her voice just a touch, "That is right Huntsmen, and Hunts-women. We are leaving for the Myth at dawn. I have given no indication because I didn’t want our enemies to know and you lot keep secrets like a pack of drunk sailors.
“Someone get the Blackhand off the barrel so he can eat and so that he can see the completion of the tapestry he sold. Vorass, you are welcome to join us in the sitting room too; you were there. The rest of you, I want us packed and ready to go at first light with no indication that we were ever here but the inn-keepers fat coffers and empty larder. I want officers close-by, no father away than the inn’s grounds. Those assigned to the maps, our way into the Myth should be planned and ready to go; I’ll hear your plan as soon as our guests take their leave and I want more emergency exit paths than last time, taking what we know now into account.
“Heldorm, anything else?”
Heldorm barks like a sergeant, “No more throwing knives at the damned out-house, you devil-dogs! What is wrong with ya’s?”
Stools are pushed back from their tables quickly as The Hunt’s members are off to their tasks.
The Huntress stands and pats her full belly, “Won’t be eating that well for a while. Will you join us in the sitting room so that we can conclude our deal, or, if tempted by my offer, discuss both of your initiations?”
To Orlin: “Wait, what would bloodthirsty gnolls be doing transporting elven goods? What do they care in the first place? This is most foul indeed.”
As Shasslan calls the party to order and issues her message and commands, I ponder a few things. It is indeed most strange to find gnolls engaged in transportation of goods. It is safe to assume they did so under something/someone’s command, but what/who, and to what end? And Shasslan’s offer! The Hunt is heading also into the forest, into the elven areas, right where I want to go as well. They offer a fair deal, and would save me dealing with my kinsman’s delicate ego. And this Zhentish code, to boot. So much to ponder…
As the members of the Hunt file off to make preparations, I take Nasharel’s hand and follow Shasslan and her people into the sitting room to conclude tonight’s business. Once we are comfortably seated, I break the ice at the first opportunity.
“Dame Shasslan, first things first.” I present her with the small coffer that holds the 500 gold agreed for the tapestry in a combination of high-value coins, gems, and a couple of solid gold figurines. "It was all counted and measured three times, but please do feel free to make sure the tally is correct. I admit I wanted to have paid a lot less than this, but I am satisfied with my purchase and pleased that this money will be spent well by your group.
“Your offer to join The Hunt is a most tempting one, Shasslan. A most tempting one indeed. I do not know you of old, but what I have seen here tonight speaks of great leadership, strong bonds among the members, of honorable pursuit of the trade. I do not doubt for a second that our contributions would be heard and appreciated as if we had spent years together, that we’d be respected and valued. To feel thusly about a group known only for a few strikes of the bell is a great testament to the integrity of the individuals that make up the whole.”
I pause a moment, weighing my decision one last time, feeling the pull between my conviction that family is a priority and my acquired instinct to go for the highest bidder. Do I have the luxury to follow my belief to the end? Can I forgo being mercenary once and for all?
I hope I’m making the right decision…
“Which is why it is honestly painful for me to have to decline your offer, at least at the moment. My word is bond, and my word was given to my cousin already. As much as my kinsman is a true pompous ass sometimes, as much as I know I am going to exercise control and restraint along the way lest I reply in kind or worse, as much as all that is true, it is also true that he is family, the only blood-kin I have right now, and family is something I feel one must fight for. I must stay true to my word.
“That said, I would still like to take a stab at deciphering that Zhentish code you encountered. I have a personal vendetta against Zhentil Keep and anything I can do to help destroy their plans and schemes I would do gladly. Perhaps you’d consider it still to our favor should we meet in the future and joining The Hunt was something feasible to do then. Does that sound good to you?”
Before you go to the sitting room with Shasslan, Blackhand and Vorass, Orlin the Illusionist grabs your shoulder, “Its the oldest mystery in adventuring, who is behind the brutes and what do they really want? The problem is, if you follow that trail, it will lead you away from treasure and into the demon-web pits are worse. I’m not saying drow are behind this, I’m saying its that old adventuring cautionary tale, where the giants were being armed and given guidance by the underdark. If you choose to follow that, be careful and whatever you decide in that room, it was a pleasure. Don’t be a stranger.”
The sitting room has a small fireplace and several wooden chairs with well worn, over-stuffed pillows.
Shassland offers Moonshae whiskey or tea while Heldorm counts every gold, silver and copper you scraped together. Blackhand is pleased to be in the sitting room with two of the founding officers. Vorass has more experience with mercenary units. The warrior is watching carefully, noting their interactions, knowing that important information is being relayed here should she ever want to be an officer in this company. Pleased with the tally, Heldorm smiles and leaves to put the money somewhere safe after entering the transaction in the company’s financial journal.
Shasslan gestures towards the tapestry, rolled up and learning in the corner of the room and says, "It is yours, as agreed and here is a rough map that shows where we met those gnolls, just south of the Standing Stones, heading north as if their demon-god’s whips were on their hides.
She hears you state your commitment to your cousin.
“That makes perfect sense to me. To be perfectly honest, we’ve grown too big too fast but I’ve learned to trust my gut and my gut said to make the offer. Good luck with your adventures. As to joining us later, if we have room, we’d love to have you with us.
“Unfortunately, I cannot hand over Zhent code, in fear that something could happen to it under your care and it might fall into evil hands.
“I was a sailor growing up and I found out that a boat I worked on was secretly a Zhentarim scouting ship. My actions or lack thereof can never unwittingly do their work ever again. When we have some more time in the Dalelands, I plan on putting a small group together, perhaps with Blackhand here, to find out the meaning of this code. For now, though, it stays in The Hunt.”
Blackhand nods, honored and his captain continues. "If we are both back in Highmoon, perhaps we could pool our resources and seek the code’s meaning together but for the fall, I’m afraid the code stays with me.
“If things go poorly for your company, make for the Standing Stone. The elven magicks there keep all but the most puissant evils at bay and if you can hold there long enough, we will camp there both on our way into Myth Drannor and on our way back and would gladly help you in your hour of need. Cormanthor is ancient and contains pockets far darker than anyone would like to admit. My you be kissed by Lady Luck’s blessings and walk strong in the armor of the Foehammer”
“Is this it? Good-bye and good luck, then?” Blackhand asks. Blackhand, Vorass and Shasslan look at you and Nasharel, ready to say their polite farewells.
Do you want to Duel of Wits or try to Persuade her (Persuade, ob 4 and I’d let you FoRK in Slavery-wise as long as you add a bit about your history in with the execution of the persuasion) to give you a glimpse at the Zhent-code or take your leave? And of course, never think that when I present you with a choice that is your only choice. There are plenty of other ways, feel free to discuss other options.
Let me know when you want to take a good look at the tapestry, it tells a story I want to convey to you about the Whitewyrm family history. If you want to write about where and how you lay it out, I’d like to write about what it teaches you.
I shake Orlin’s hand strongly and promise to not be a stranger indeed before heading into the sitting room.
I gladly take the offered Moonshae whiskey; it is a rarity in these parts and I openly praise their good taste and generosity.
(I am going to attempt to persuade Shasslan to at least let me see the code now, assuming she has it on her. I do not have Persuade so my ob is 8; even with my Slavery-wise FoRK it is an impossible task. Nevertheless, I will put it forth if only to start the process of opening it.)
“Dame Shasslan, I fear you misunderstood my words. I would never request to be entrusted with such a document while not being a member of your company. It would be disrespectful and rude of me, so my apologies if I implied that.
“What I did mean, however, is that if you happen to have it on your person, I would ask your indulgence in have a look at it. I realize I am asking you to trust me far beyond what our few hours together would deem prudent, but let me tell my tale and you will understand my interest better.
“I begin by stressing that, beyond my beloved Nasharel here, no one, not even my cousin knows this tale. I would ask your prudence with my life’s story.
“As I mentioned to Master Orlin earlier tonight, I am Half-Elf. My father was an Elf of the Cormanthor but my mother was a human woman from Highmoon. My mother was captured by slavers and sold to a Zhentish wizard. It was in that oppressive state that I was born. I grew up in the dark caves under Zhentil Keep, one of the few to survive childhood in chains. I do not wish to recount all the horrible things I lived through and witnessed, for I do not think there is anyone here who hasn’t at least heard stories of Zhentish slavery. Suffice to say every story I have heard has paled when compared to the reality I lived.
“I bear scars that will be with me till my mortal death from those days, but none more painful than the death of my mother. She sacrificed herself in order for Nasharel and I to escape. When I close my eyes… I can still see her screaming at us to run, run and run until you can run no more, then run more still.
“As I told you earlier, family is paramount to me, and for the same reason I would put up with my cousin’s inflated ego and tasteless taunts, I would one day seek Xerez the Mad and put an end to his life; I swore this on my mother’s life, just as I sword that he would only be the first of many more Zhentarim to fall by my hand.
“This is why I ask to perhaps have a look. I may not be able to help you at all, but maybe, who knows, maybe I can give you something that will help you. Help us. If not, I fully understand and bear no ill will whatsoever. Whether you show me the parchment or not, I will keep your offer firmly in mind, for there will be a reckoning coming to Zhentil Keep and firm allies are joyously welcomed.”
(Persuade Roll: 2d6 = 4[d6]+5[d6])
Regardless of what happens next, after tonight’s events we go back home and that’s when I unroll the tapestry and have my first glimpse at the complete piece.
Shasslan’s face grows grim. “Blackhand, summon the officers.”
Blackhand blinks for a moment and runs from the room, just as he did as a boy on the streets of Ravens Bluff, running messages back and forth between thieves and thief-catchers, merchants and craftsfolk, sailors and carpenters. They have not gone far; it doesn’t take him long.
The first to enter is the illusionist and then the three priests of Tempus, already in their ragged, holy battle-armor. The last officer is Heldorm.
While they enter Shasslan is silent. She takes a shot of whiskey, pours another, drinks it and begins. Heldorm draws the curtains closed and Orlin casts a spell while the Huntress speaks, a sound-based illusion to keep eavesdroppers from listening.
“I grew up as a sailor on the Sea of Fallen Stars. It was not until I was a woman-grown that I understood what it was that my ship did. Ours was a scouting ship, identifying weak villages for Zhentarim slavers. I vowed to have my revenge but I knew that taking the fight to Zhentil Keep would be no small endeavor and I was only a marine with a wicked reputation for having killed her own father and burned her ship to into the sea.
“The time between then and now is just details, what is important is that the Powers brought us here. The Hunt is a group made for one purpose: the fall of Zhentil Keep. We watch our candidates, henchmen, hirelings and hangers-on very carefully. If we find that you are not a worthy candidate or that you have no passion for what will eventually become our work, we pass you over for promotion and edge you out of the company, foster you to another company with a less ambitious goal.
“Our goal is the fall of Zhentil Keep. That is our hunt. Everyone here, Vorass and Blackhand included have good reason to fight the Zhents and from the way you said their name over dinner, I could tell you’d had experience with them but I had no idea how deeply they had hurt you.
“We are amassing a fortune so that we might fight the Zhentarim. War is expensive work.
“Our priests have been having visions for weeks and I believe those visions concerned the two of you. This is destiny.
“Now I will do something unprecedented; I will ask again. I asked you earlier in hopes that we might have time to feel you out and see if you are a fit for our organization. Now my offer is more aggressive. Join now and you will both walk into officer positions in the Hunt and join a conspiracy to burn Zhentil Keep to the ground and send its occupants straight to the Hells.”
From Vorass’ face, you can tell she had an inkling but Laelin looks shocked. The rest of the officers have gathered around.
“I’m so sorry, Song of my Heart,” Nasharel says. She steps forward. “Officers of the Hunt, Nasharel the Wanderer is in.”
NOTE: I AM NOT TRYING TO RAILROAD YOU. We will have fun no matter what your decision might be. There is no right decision, only fun decisions. If you go Hunt, I’m not going to shaft your cousin and if you go Knights of Highmoon, I’m not going to shaft Nasharel. And remember to mark down that you are learning Persuasion, with 1 check towards learning it, BWG, pg 49-50
I’m stunned, and I don’t think I can hide it well at all. It is a lot to take in.
I look around the room, at the faces of all those assembled. I search their eyes for the truth of Shasslan’s words, for the conviction of their mission, and find it easily, displayed openly now that their leader has pulled back the curtain, so to speak.
Well, Hal, I say to myself, this is it. The time you had been dreaming about, when Tymora would finally hear your pleas and open the road in front of you. She has done so and with companions to boot.
I gave my word to my cousin, yes. But long before that I gave my word to my mother. Family, Freedom and Love all collide in this goal. And my one true love would be by my side, as is befitting.
Nethanel will hate me for this, but then again, he already hates me so no great loss there.
I drink down the rest of my whiskey in one gulp, look into Nasharel’s eyes… And smile. "Do not be sorry, my love. It is a day to rejoice.
“I, Hal Whitewyrm, of the House of Stephaln and Clan Whitewyrm, am in.”
The room explodes into hugs and tears and prayers. Shasslan gives you both a hug that is strong and a kiss on each cheek.
“Welcome to the Hunt.”
While Vorass is cool and collected, Shaelin Blackhand seems to be on a plane of existence made of excitement and enthuisiasm; he hits you on the shoulder like a brother would and says, “We’re officers!”
Shasslan sternly brings him back to the Prime Material. “No, they are officers. You and Vorass are full members and will be paid as such from this moment on out but we won’t make an official announcement until we return for the winter, or else it will seem too odd. Two elves as officers so quickly – the rest of the company will assume they have puissance beyond mortal understanding. Two elves, a warrior and a thug from Ravens Bluff, however…”
Heldorm pats him on the back. “Yer on your way, lad, no more probation for you. You’ll be on the barrel quite a bit less”
Shaelin nods in understanding. “Do you know who killed my brother, then? Was it a Zhent?”
Shasslan says, “It was the same Zhent who killed Hal’s mother. You hunt the same wizard: Xerez of Zhentil Keep. Vorass, Blackhand – we are trusting your discretion. Do not let us down. Please leave; the officers have to talk."
Blackhand walks out in shock, gripping one of his knife handles as if it is all that is holding him on the surface of Faerun and without it he would float up into the phlogiston beyond the stars. Vorass puts her arm around him. “C’mon, let’s have a drink, Shaelin but not too many; the morning will come too soon on a night like this.”
Shasslan and Heldorm exchange a look as Vorass and Blackhand take their leave (Perception check, ob 3) and what passes between them is as loaded as a Lantani pistol.
“The Oath is as follows,” the Huntress says and together the officers say it from memory:
“The Hunt continues until Zhentil Keep falls – so I swear. The Hunt continues until no Zhentarim chains bind creatures’ limbs – so I swear. The Hunt continues until Bane’s Temples are destroyed – so I swear. The Hunt continues despite my scars – so I swear. The Hunt continues on Faerun or beyond – so I swear. The Hunt continues with my every breath – so I swear. The Hunt continues without me, should I fall – so do I swear.”
“Swearing seven times, one for each of the Sisters, for each of Tempus’ great battles in the Planes,” intones one of the priests.
“Are you prepared to make this oath?”
NOTE: Do we need/want to re-write any Beliefs? Maybe change the one about family to one about the Hunt? I’d rather stay away from beliefs about taking down Zhentil Keep and have those kinds of beliefs be about specific do-able goals. But beliefs about how far you are willing to go in order to take down Zhents could be cool…but its daring me to push harder…
Take 1 Personna for playing against that belief about Family, Love and Honor…ala Moldbreaker. Is that belief done?
Perception Roll: 4d6 = 6,6,3,6 – 3 successes
Belief: My belief is “Family, Freedom and Love are the only things worth fighting for.” The way I reasoned it, joining the Hunt in their goal of fighting Zhentil Keep is keeping my word to my mother (Family, Love) to end all Zhentish slavery (Freedom). I feel it is a valid interpretation of that Belief, at least for now, though it’s certainly starting to get tested. Do let me know if the Persona artha stays.
I take Nasharel’s hand and swear the oath of The Hunt:
“The Hunt continues until Zhentil Keep falls – so I swear. The Hunt continues until no Zhentarim chains bind creatures’ limbs – so I swear. The Hunt continues until Bane’s Temples are destroyed – so I swear. The Hunt continues despite my scars – so I swear. The Hunt continues on Faerun or beyond – so I swear. The Hunt continues with my every breath – so I swear. The Hunt continues without me, should I fall – so do I swear.”
I swear it seven times as required. It is no longer their Hunt; it is now OUR Hunt.
Now, the Belief about Xerez can change to incorporate the Hunt. I am, however, having trouble phrasing it in a punchy way. Let me think about this.
NOTE: Sounds good, man. Nothing NEEDS to change. I just wanted to check in and make sure. That would be a really early time for a belief to be swapped out but my sense of pace is all fuct because of the play-by-post medium. I say leave it be, if we notice that a belief is not generating artha, we’ll suss it out. But if you want a change, by all means, go for it
Nasharel takes your other hand as you take hers, you say the words together. Looking into each other’s eyes, you become members of The Hunt.
When you look up, your mind makes sense of the glance between the Huntress and her trusted second in command, Heldorm…either Vorass or Shaelin is suspected of being a traitor and they plan on dealing with it with steel’s brutal solution. Either the warrior or the thief will not live to see the dawn if they have their way. One of them heard too much, too soon and the Huntress never intended to let them in to the conspiracy so soon. Blackhand seems to have an iron-clad reason to stay loyal, so that would leave Vorass the Maul with unproven loyalties and all of the powers of Zhentil Keep out there in the world, waiting to uncover this organization’s true purpose.
After the oath, the time for ritual and formality is over.
“Elves of the Hunt, we leave at first light; do not be late. Whatever business you must finish up in Highmoon, do so before dawn’s rosy ale vomits over the horizon. If you’d like, I will have one of the hirelings take the tapestry to your cottage – one less thing for you to worry about.
“If possible, I’d like to talk to you both before we leave but I realize that is asking too much. At worst, I’d like to ride next to you on our way out of town and discuss Hunt business. You will notice we never bring up the Zhents in public. You will learn to hide your disdain for them or you will get us all killed. When an officer mentions Hunt Business, you will know what they mean.
“We can make introductions later, for now, I hope Lady Luck smiles on your last night in Highmoon. The rest of you Huntsmen…walk with a purpose and keep a sharp eye on our people; tonight is no night for foolishness and they’ve already had too much time without an officer’s guidance.
“…I’m stayin’ to talk. I know damned well. You don’t need to hold my rod while I make water, Captain.”
Nasharel turns to you, “I have a few people I want to give farewells to. Highmoon was good to me and I should not skulk away from those who gave me my first taste of home in some time. I will meet you back at the cottage in a few hours so that we might see the tapestry together?”
(I’ll keep the Belief as-is for now, yes. We’ll look into it again as we move along.)
I kiss Nasharel and ask her to give my farewells as well to all who are concerned. “I shall see you at the house. Be careful, my love. My heart goes with you. I cannot wait see this art together.”
After she leaves, I turn to Shasslan and Hel. "I promise you, I have lived many years being careful about what I show to the world. I can hide my hatred for the Zhentarim behind a mask of joyous merriment if needed.
“You will forgive me if I am too forward now, but I noticed the glances between you as the two new full members left. I am not prying into a leader’s business, but I can tell something stinks as an orcish cesspit.
“What else did you wish to speak of?”
Shasslan turns on her military demeanor like a Wizard turns on a Power Word: Kill. “Don’t you have enough to worry about tonight without taking all of the Hunt’s troubles on your shoulders? I’m very good at what I do; please, allow me to run this company.”
Hel discreetly closes the door, keeping the argument private. Once he does that, he stands behind his captain, his body language entirely ready to back her up but his eyes don’t look sure (that there is the Let it Ride for your Perception test).
Shasslan continues, confident with her quartermaster backing her up. "She hasn’t left the inn but the night is long and we don’t know if she might leave a coded message here. We cannot trust her. All of the mercenary companies she claims to have been a part of were fine and upstanding but the names, superior officers, contacts were all impossible to track down, all dead or Sigil-bound or on ships that go beyond the sky.
“And she’s had military training, her abilities with small squad tactics is second-to-none; I haven’t seen anything like it since watching a squad of Zhentarim Marines storm a wizard’s tower. If you are right, my soul is weighed down with a fell deed and she is another casualty of this war. If I am right, we will all die by some Bane-spawn’s hands if we’re lucky and its business as per usual in Zhentil Keep.”
NOTE: This seems like our first Duel of Wits. If so, jot down a few sentences for your Body of Argument and roll your DoW skill but you don’t have one, so roll your Will, halve it and add it to your full Will for your Body of Argument/your argument’s hit points. I propose (and feel free to disagree with me) that if she wins, she deals with Vorass as she sees fit and if you win, Vorass lives until her innocence or guilt can be proven. That work for you?
Body of Argument: 4 (1/2 Will rolled = 1 success [you need 2 for 1 BoA point, pg. 391] + Will)
“Shasslan, my apologies if my query implied any doubt of your ability to lead this company. The Hunt’s name and fame spread far and wide and that could not be without a capable leader at the helm. No, far from it, I only ask because as far as I am concerned, upon making that sacred oath, you are like unto family to me, and I am bound to help family. But that also includes all the full members of this company, and by your word this very night, Vorass is one as well.”
I have my volleys scripted in a separate text file. As we move down the exchanges, I’ll reveal them.
I would caution against scripting until you see my Body of Argument and wouldn’t script rounds in advance. Let it flow.
0 successes on her 3 dice of Persuasion. Body of Argument: 4.
Her words ring hollow. What she is describing sounds like base murder and nothing more
Her first round is scripted. When you post yours, I’ll post mine.
Ah, my mistake. When you wrote “jot down a few sentences for your Body of Argument” I thought you meant that my BoA needed to have a foundation statement. I read the DoW section but it didn’t really make clear whether I needed to have one prior to launching into the duel or not.
The DoW section (summary pg. 402) says we need to script our first exchange (three actions/volleys) before we get down to the action. Once that’s done, we reveal each action one by one, resolving each before moving to the other. If by the end of the third action/the end of the exchange, anyone still has points in their BoA, then we script a second exchange and so on.
Let’s do this. Consider my paragraph above my opening action for the first exchange. It’s a Point.
The past few paragraphs was your Body of Argument, your statement of purpose. Now, unveil your three scripted moves and I will unveil mine, we’ll see how they interact, one round at a time and then we’ll write our reactions based on that.
That make sense?
My three scripted actions are:
The two of you begin talking over each other in clipped tones.
“You have no idea what it takes to run an army and that is what we are.”
She splits her dice up, 3 for attack and 1 for defense. 1 success for the attack and 1 success for the defense. Give a rebuttal, show yer dice and we’ll move on to the next script. If you have any questions, don’t be shy.
“No army in Faerun is run on guesses and hunches. It helps, yes, but there has to be something more. And to take a life on a gut feeling? Bane be praised if that’s the case!”
I split my dice, 3 for attack and 1 for defense as well. 2 successes on the attack and 1 success on the defense.
Body of Argument – Hal: 4, Shasslan 3. She tries to Feint and your point rips right through it. What skill did you use for that past attack or was it a straight Will roll, if so did you cut the successes in half?
Shasslan starts to play subtle word games, treating you like a village or peasant kid being recruited for a mercenary company or sailing ship. That is when Hal Whitewyrm teachers her the error of her ways.
Or at least I hope he does. You get a free shot, here. You out-scripted her and she will have ZERO defense but it is untested, so take that into account. As long as you do some damage to her Body of Argument, there will be a compromise that we’ll suss out between Judd and Daniel, not Hal and Shasslan.
I forgot to halve my successes, so that would be 1 success in attack and 0 success in defense. Adjust as necessary.
“Shasslan, I just met you but you do not strike me as someone who’d be so cutthroat on a whim. If you have proof, or some inkling of a clue to follow, let us all investigate it. If she is guilty, I will stand by your side as justice is meted out, but there cannot be murder in the name of paranoia. We would be no better than the Zhentarim if that were the case.”
Will Roll: 3,5,3,6 = 2 successes halved down to 1 success.
Body of Argument – Hal: 4, Shasslan 3. With the correction from the past mistake, the score stands.
You make a point as she attempts to end the argument. If she fails with her Dismiss, she will hesitate and the first round of the next volley will be a free shot for you.
“Hal, my brother in the hunt, this is no whim. This is information collected from here to the Sword Coast and back. This is not us becoming the Zhentarim but us safeguarding our hunt and going to the lengths necessary to truly do justice in Faerun.”
Persuasion skill of 3 +2 extra dice for the Dismiss action = 4 successes. But your Point goes off at the same time, taking down her Body of Argument too. You’ll get a compromise.
“Then speak or show some part of your proof. By your own words you only have suspicions and circumstance to fall back on. Investigate, yes, but do not kill. Confront her if you must know before dawn.”
Will roll: 5,4,4,6 = 2 successes halved down.
Alright, you wittled down her Body of Argument by half, that is a major compromise.
She is going to kill her in a week but you have that time to gather evidence one way or the other and it is your responsibility to make sure that she hasn’t left behind any coded messages. You may ask any of the officers for help.
That work for ya? Keeping in mind that this agreement is made between us, not a conversation about the characters. We’re figuring out the compromise.
Works for me, yes. It’s precisely the solution I had in mind.
Fantastic, you won it, fair and square.
“Look into the abyss too long, blah blah blah,” Shasslan says dismissively.
“Consider Vorass’ head on the chopping block and you have stayed the execution for a time. You have a week and furthermore, it is your responsibility to make sure that she hasn’t left any information for Zhentarim spies at the inn and it is your job to gather evidence of her innocence. You may enlist the help of any of the Hunt’s officers. Good luck. I hope you find what you are looking for.”
Hel says, “We all have lots to do before morning. We done here?”
Shasslan smiles, “Welcome to the adventuring company, Hal. How did you enjoy your first battle?”
Might be worthwhile to toss out a Belief for a while and get a short-term achievable belief like, “I will find the evidence needed to ascertain if Vorass is with the Zhentarim.” Those short term ones are good for Personna and keep the game flowing…that said, beliefs are YOURS to author; I’m just tossing out a suggestion.
Wow, Beliefs are very dynamic! Yeah, I’ll toss out the Zhentarim one for now and replace it with “If Vorass is a Zhent spy, I will find out for sure.”
The tension in the room diffused, I smile back at Shasslan, clasping her hand. "I can see this will be a wonderful home! I won’t fail you.
“Yes, I think we’re done here for the night. See you all at dawn’s first light. Rest well.”
On my way out of the inn, I circle around the back and look around, trying to find one of the alewenches that work the inn. It’s late, but sometimes they stay behind to smoke pipeweed, talk about annoying patrons or arrange other types of services with those who know where to look.
I’m attempting a Circles test for one of the wenches. My basis would be the fact that I entertain in the inns of Highmoon, so it’d be someone I know casually by name from night after night of working the taproom at the same time. I’ve no Affiliation or Reputation to call upon so straight up.
Circles Test: 2d6 = 6,1 – 1 success.
The ob for finding a tavern wench for you is in fact 1. In the future, you can let me know you are thinking about a circles roll, I’ll give you the ob and we can move from there. Its best to have the obstacle up front so that you can see if you want to toss Persona points at it, add in your reputation/affiliations, make a linked test with an appropriate -wise or try something else.
Sussie was born in Highmoon 25 winters ago, 7th of 15 children in a shepherd’s family. She seems to know everyone in Highmoon. Her husband was killed in the recent Scardale uprising and she’s raising the twins alone. She offers you a toke on her pipe and says, “Hey there, pumpkin-eyes,” with her husky voice, made deeper from a lifetime of smoking pipeweed with the gals after the common room is closed for the night.
The other tavern ladies and working girls make excuses to be elsewhere, knowing that Sussie has had a crush on you since you showed up in town.
(Got it on the Circles.)
I take a good pull from the pipe and let out the smoke in nice, even rings.
“Susskia, always a pleasure to see you. I take it your twins are doing well?”
I flash a winning smile as I hand her back the pipe. I flirt, but I make very sure to keep my distance to about two feet at the very least.
“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about one of the inn’s patrons of late, a very tall, muscular woman; dark hair, warrior, with a warhammer. Maul she seems to be called, not sure if that’s a name or a title. I know would’ve seen her, but I’m wondering if you’ve noticed her talking or consorting with anyone other outside those in the group she came with? I know those sparkling emerald eyes of yours see everything and miss little.”
The twins are well, thanks for asking, still singing that song you taught them. Where’s that song from…Shadowdale?"
“The She-Maul…yes, we’ve noticed her. She’s more of an anvil and an ogre. I’ve seen hundreds of would-be adventurers and heroes come through here. Most want to survive the battle so they can boast of it while one of us ladies is on their knee. Vorass is different. She’s up every morning doing her morning regime – throwing a leather satchel filled with sand and chainmail, scouring the mail and working up a sweat. She breaks fasts with knights, squires, elven archers and armorers, learning about different fighting from different lands.
Vorass the Maul is lusty too and when she talks of someone she fancies, she blushes like a priest in a druid circle. So, to answer your question, my Lord of Whitewyrm, she does talk to plenty of folk outside of The Hunt. She studies the art of killing and she quite obviously sees other warriors as her tomes and scrolls."
“Aye, Shadowdale, but it has its origins in the ancient elven cities of the forest. ’Tis a great song.
“Thank you for the information on the Maul. Did you happen to see where she went tonight? It must’ve been less than one toll of the bell ago.”
(Let me know if I need to make any rolls here.)
“You’re just using me for my pretty eyes. Ah well, a pity.
“She’s out seeing her little wizard, been seeing him for some time now from what I’ve heard. He’s at the Silver Shield. Why do you want to know? Is she suspected in some crime against the Elven Queen?
“What do I get for giving you this information about this dangerous warrior? Will you bring me back something from your adventures…for the children, of course.”
“My dear Sussie, you are unique among the people of this town. Those pretty eyes of yours see more than eagles at the top of the Thunder Peaks and that is no mean feat. I tell you that if my heart did not already belong to someone else, I would be in great trouble from those sparkling emeralds.
“Been seeing a little wizard, you say? For some time now. I will go have a look. As to why I’m asking, I know you are a very discreet woman and would not want to know more than would be prudent. Let us call it professional curiosity and leave it at that.
“My dear Susskia, Sussie, many thanks for your help this night. If I could impose upon you one last time, I would ask that once The Hunt leaves, you be the one to clean the room where the Maul now sleeps. If you should find she left anything behind, and I mean anything, you have it sent to me post haste with a private messenger from Silverhand House; I trust Gaelin implicitly. I will leave directions to finding me along the road with him as well.
“I know I ask much and yet more then. Take these coins for the messenger; keep them if there is no need. And I promise upon my return I shall bring something from afar… for the children, of course.”
(I leave her a few gold coins—let me know if you’d like a Resources test for the cash—and after this I head over to the Silver Shield. I know the elven family that runs it fairly well.)
If you want to really make a difference in Susskia’s life, roll to give her some cash dice. For 1 cash die, its an ob 2 Resources check, page 374. Y’know what, I was thinking about just saying, ‘yes,’ rather than rolling the dice on the elf who owns the Silver Shield but I’ve reconsidered.
Roll a circles test to get in touch with the elven owners of the Silver Shield. Either way you are going to get in touch with her, but this is going to let me know her disposition towards you. Circles…ob 3, as she’s a higher station than you. I could zing you on elves not being within your lifepaths but I think that’s a dick move, the FR setting has elves as far more common than BW as-written and you have the Fey Blood trait. Its not like you’re trying to track down an Elven Etharch or Sword Singer…this is an inn-owner. Yeah, ob 3 circles test.
The Silver Shield is immaculate as always. In the grove in front of the inn, the master of the inn is an elven lady, Keleb Starnar. She is playing her harp with the wind and it sounds like rain lightly hitting a roof on a summer’s day. When the song is done, she opens her eyes and nods at you.
“Young Master Hal, it is a little late in the evening for your songs, I think, as our common room is cold and the hearth is growing cool. How can I help you?”
Her long silver hair is shining in the moonlight and she looks every inch the elven matriarch, with no noble titles but still demanding respect from the elves in this community for the wisdom she has gathered having traveled in the world of the younger races. They say she has taken an oath not to cut her hair until she returns to Evermeet and plays her harp for the King and Queen.
Resources Test: 1,5,4 = 3 successes.
Circles Test: 2,4 = 1 success.
I bow deeply in her presence (I pretty much consider all good-standing elves as qualifying for my trait Extremely Respectful of One’s Betters).
“Lady Starnar, no hour of the day is ever late to gaze upon your radiance and grace mine ears with the enchanting sounds of dew that emanate from your delicate fingers upon the strings of the harp. The weariness of the day washes away with just the few notes I caught upon my entrance.”
Letting you gauge the Circles test result before continuing.
“Your words are kind and gracious. You do your mother proud. It is late and my song is done; I’m off to dream of the stars above Evermeet. What brings you here at midnight, Hal? Are you visiting one of our guests? I could summon them for you if their light is on and they are awake.”
“No need to summon anyone, Milady, though I would ask a question of you. Have you seen a visitor to your establishment, a large muscular woman called Vorass or the Maul? I am told she has been coming here to meet with a guest, a “small wizard,” he was described to me. If you have, could you tell me about their meetings, how long have they been happening for, and for what length of time do they speak?
“Milady, I must tell you I dare cross the boundaries of privacy only in the interest of truth, for know I am on an errand of life or death.”
“Hal, how many decades of life have you seen to know life and death stakes that would cause me to break my oaths of hearth and home? It is common knowledge that I have several War Wizards from Cormyr and their apprentices, along with several knights of the Purple Dragon here to take note of the damage to the Dalelands done during the Scardale uprising but more than that I cannot say.”
It is at this point the fact that she has never referred to you as Whitewyrm might or might not become apparent.
“I am child to your immortal eyes, Milady, born of Human and Elf blood yet fully of neither, so my years on this land are but a blink to you. But please do know that in those years I have seen more death than some will see in a lifetime, more violent theft of life than any sane living being should witness, more blood spilled for the mere whim of those in power than any eye should bear. And yet I live and continue to think that there is good in this world. It is a feature of my mortal Human blood, I’m afraid. I would never seek to make you break your oath of hearth and home, may the blood of my father of Clan Whitewyrm be taken from my veins, but someone’s life is at stake. And by the same sanctity of that precious gift the gods have entrusted us all in varying lengths, I will not see life’s flame extinguished if there is no good reason to do so.
“Milady Starnar, please I beg of you, help me to uphold Justice. I would be in your debt.”
You feel the weight of over two centuries of wisdom, leadership and grace in her eyes. She considers your words with all of that time’s accumulated experience and responds simply, almost lyrically.
Duel of Wits?
Body of Argument: 5 (Will + 2 successes halved down)
I have my script for the opening exchange done.
Might not want to script before you see her BoA.
She rolls 4 successes due to her Gray Will. Her BoA is 8.
I think you’ve both stated your BoA’s in words above. Let’s do this. I’m going to prepare her first 3 scripts.
(I figured we had both stated our BoAs well just prior, that’s why I went ahead and scripted. If we run into a situation where the BoA isn’t well stated, I will always wait then.)
Point – Rebuttal – Dismiss
Feint – Rebuttal – Point
Here’s my feint.
“Are you sure this is about the rights of your patrons or about your disguised dislike of my mixed blood? Do not think I haven’t noticed you’ve never mentioned my father’s clan name.”
Her words cut through yours like an elven spear through orc-flesh.
“Your claim to the Whitewyrm name is as thin as your right to know my patrons’ comings and goings.”
2 Successes. Hal’s BoA: 3. Keleb’s BoA: 8. Your scripting instincts were solid but you zigged instead of zagged…just bad effing luck. We should have set more clear stakes but it seemed obvious. If you win, she tells you what you want to know and if she wins, her patrons’ secrets remain secret. Would you like to describe the Rebuttal on Rebuttal, in which you both talk over and past each other to no effect.
“My claim to the Whitewyrm name is not what is at stake here right now, Milady, and to drag such a business into this argument is a weak and dare I say cowardly move to dismiss my righteous plea to you.”
“Weak and cowardly is you asking me to peak through my patron’s windows and betray their trust for your youngling adventures.”
Next up, you Point as she Dismisses. You go first.
My Point (with a dash of Incite).
“Milady, I say this to you: you are letting your immortal view of the world rule over reason, and your lack of help could mean mortal blood on your hands.”
Will Test + 1 Persona artha: 2,4,4,5,5 – 2 successes (halved down).
“Your mortal view of the world does not allow you to know what reason is, much less sit in judgment over my responsibilities. My inn is and information concerning those sleeping within the protection of my songs and spears are closed to you, young Hal. The one they call Little Wizard is not, in fact, a wizard but an apprentice wizard, studying to be a War Wizard of Cormyr.”
3 successes. Your BoA is 0 and her’s stands at 6. You have earned a minor compromise. What exactly were you looking for and what do you think is a fair minor compromise?
The Elven Matriarch turns and leaves, the autumn wind strumming a few notes out of her harp in her wake.
From out a window of the inn, climbs Vorass. A young man’s head peaks out, smiles and kisses her and she deftly pulls herself up for one last kiss before dropping to the ground. He hands her the hammer and holds for a moment.
“No, I’ll be skilled. You be safe, War Wizard.”
They are looking at each other one last time and have not seen you yet.
Ouch, her Dismissal is actually just walking away. Zing.
Annoyed at the turn of events, I walk out of the inn. I then notice Vorass. I do my best to hide until she has passed (Inconspicuous Test: 6,2,3,5 = 2 successes), and assuming she does not see me, once she’s a few step ahead of me I say, “Lovely night for a walk, wouldn’t you say, Vorass?”
3 successes on her Perception check but she doesn’t have Observation training, so its halved and she did not, in fact, see you.
Not knowing how much you saw, Vorass plays it cool. “No night this short could be lovely. I’m on the barrel in half a bell. What about you? Business to tidy up at the Silver Shield, Hal?”
“You could say that. I wanted to have few words with you, if I may. I am sorry that events tonight with The Hunt did not turn out so well for you. I hope you bear no ill will toward me or my beloved for your—our leader’s actions.
“Vorass, we fight a dark fight against an even darker foe. I have learned Blackhand’s reasons to war on the Keep, but what about yours? Please forgive my blunt rudeness in asking; time is short.”
“Leader’s actions? The captain didn’t do anything wrong. I thought letting you two in was smart.
“I’m a soldier, plain and simple. Its all I know. I’ve warred from here to the Sword Coast and back. I don’t have a dramatic reason for taking on the Hunt’s enemy but I chose to leave the life of a mercenary soldier to do this adventuring. I don’t know what to tell you, Hal. What are you looking for from me and why?”
“Vor, I am a bard, plain and simple. I have some skill with the sword, enough to watch my back and that of my beloved, but I am no martial champion. Upon first laying eyes on you I knew you were a seasoned warrior, a terror to fear with that warhammer of yours in hand. As I join your band, as we become brothers in the hunt, I want to know on whom I can depend to strike down any foes I cannot deal with. I speak to you now trying to ascertain what my gut tells me: that you are a warrior to trust in thick and thin, someone I can count on, someone to trust, even.
“I have heard some of your exploits; the minstrels sing songs and once you learn the names of the heroes you can start to put together who they are singing about. Songs of The Maul, She of the Hammer, have reached my ears before; I have no doubt they speak of you and your deeds. They are amazing to hear about, and I must be honest, I long to behold them myself so that I may also sing of thee one day.
“So what say you, soldier, mercenary of the land, are you this warrior my instinct tells me, one I can trust my back in battle, one I can count as an ally in our hunt for the Zhentarim?”
Let me know if you’d like a untrained Persuasion test to convey the honesty of my words.
I’m not sure any rolls are necessary.
“Don’t say that aloud. Words like that carry and the Captain would have your head for saying it so plainly.
“Stop flattering me. There are no songs about me. I’m a foot soldier who managed to survive a life of a ground-pounder, plain and simple. I do nothing more than learn my trade. If I were a blacksmith and I went looking at the local forge or a farrier looking at the local horse-flesh no one would say a word but my trade is getting to where I’m needed with my hammer and driving enemies into rout, so suddenly its worthy of a song.
“Evil didn’t kill my brother, nor am I a priest of Tempus but you can trust me, Hal.”
“Very well. What do you know of Blackhand? Why does he wear the mark of a thieves’ guild which was exterminated to its last member?”
“You didn’t catch that? His brother was a member and when he came of age, he would’ve been a member too. The Blackhands messed with your old buddy among the Hunt’s quarry and he killed them to a man. Only reason why our boy was left alive is because he was too young to be considered a threat. He cried himself to sleep tonight and when I asked him why, he said that he was relieved to know how to avenge his brother and mad that the information was kept from him for so long.
“I have to take my time on watch on the barrel. I caught the shift from now ’till dawn. Anything else, Hal?”
“No, that would be all, Vor. Have a good watch at the barrel.”
I start to walk away then turn.
“Actually, there is one more thing you could help me with. Tell me, is it true what they say about Cormyri wizards and why they all wear skirts?” I ask smiling mischievously, sure that I am outside the reach of a sudden punch.
She shakes her head, blushes and runs back to the inn. Over her shoulder she says, “Is it true elven maidens sing songs when they are in bed?”
_I reckon there are two things to do before ending this chapter and heading out with the Hunt: Talk with your cousin (if you want to; you could also just leave) and see the tapestry. Anything else to do in Highmoon before leaving? What do you want to do first?
“Aye, it’s true!” I shout back as she leaves.
Once she has left, I take a glance at the window from which she came out. I momentarily ponder climbing the wall and taking a peek, but decide not to push my luck for the night.
I walk by the Leaves of Learning on the way back to my cottage. Nethanel’s quarters are around the back and I peek to see if there is a candle on this late at night by any chance.
His light is on and you can hear him at his lecture, reading out loud from a book about the God-Kings of Mulhorand.
“…noble courts were temples and thrones were altars. Dukes were priests and knights holy avengers. At the height of their power, prayers to other deities and miracles sent to those of other Faiths would not reach Faerun while in Mulhorand, as if their towers blocked all other divinities.”
He turns a page and sips some mint tea, not noticing you outside his window.
“What exactly is your fascination with the Mulhorandi, cousin? I have heard of academic pursuits but you follow their trail like a soldier follows whores on the eve of battle!”
I climb in through his window, not letting him protest my presence or intrusion.
“We need to speak. I am sorry for the late hour and unorthodox manners, but I have little time. I come to tell you that, in the morrow, I ride north with The Hunt, I’m sure you’ve heard of them. I know you will be heartbroken that I won’t be accompanying you, as that means you will need new hirelings, but the opportunity came to fulfill an oath made long before the one I made to you earlier today.
“Now listen to me well, please, and put all enmity you bear me aside for one moment. Should you and your band find yourselves in trouble while in the Cormanthor, please seek refuge at this stone I mark here on your map. Do you understand?”
“If things go poorly for me, you wish me to meet you at the Standing Stone…the stone erected by the elves to note that the humans could settle the hills and valleys of the Dalelands?
“Where will you meet if things do not go well for you, cousin? Feh, don’t answer.
“Of course you won’t be joining me and of course you are insulted that I asked you to work you way up and did not hand you the world on an elven platter because you have Whitewyrm blood and orange eyes. Of course you won’t be keeping your oath, as you are your mother’s son.
“Did you know that your mother and my father adventured together? True, true. She took her younger brother away from Highmoon the night after his wedding to my mother and despite her oath to return him to my mother just as she took him, he returned to Deepingdale a shattered husk of a man. Maybe its for the best we never adventured together. The traditions of our family’s expeditions is not exactly the stuff if your bard’s tales.
“Be careful out there, cousin. We are the last of our family in the world and I know your human name holds little romance for you, it does mean something to me. Good night.”
He closes the book, putting it beneath the lecturn and snuffs a candle, leaving you in the dark to find your own way out.
“Ah, my dear cousin, perhaps one day you will understand that my human blood is as important to me as my elven one. I pray the gods allow us to meet again in health to let that be clear to us both.
“You bear my love and my good wishes on your journey. Fare thee well.”
Finally, it is time to head home to Nasharel. And to that tapestry I ransomed the world to purchase.
Nasharel has her robe on and her traveling gear laid out and ready to go for the morning. Her hair is still wet from a last bath before hitting the road. Tea is steeping, the same kind of mint tea that your cousin was just drinking. The floor is cleared so that the tapestry can be rolled out without putting it near the fire.
“Are you ready to unroll the tapestry and learn some your Clan’s history?”
“My dear, the only thing I want more in this world is to lie in the warmth of your arms for a few precious hours of rest before we depart, and that will happen soon enough. Let us see what we have together bought.”
Together you roll out the tapestry across the floor, grateful that it is not raining or else the leaky roof would leave the tapestry damaged.
Tapestries tell stories, even frayed, old, blood-stained tapestries dragged halfway across the Cormanthor before being reclaimed from murderous gnolls.
Let’s take his as a learning moment. You can take a test towards learning one of the following skills: Ancient History, Whitewyrm-wise, Winter-wise or White Dragon-wise.
End of Chapter I
I’ll take the test towards Ancient History:
Will Test: 4,5,6,5 = 4 successes. Logging one Aptitude test.
6th of Elient, Year of the Prince, 1357, Dale Reckoning
Its a cold Autumn rain at dawn as The Hunt leaves Highmoon. Shasslan the Huntress drops a final bag of gold into the inn-keepers hands and brings up the rear of the troop. The company rides in a loose formation around a two-horse drawn cart. Shasslan, Heldorm Umbrav, and the 3 priests of Tempus all have proper war-horses but the rest just ride draft horses in case one of the cart horses comes up lame.
Shasslan sidles her horse up to you and Nasharel, flips her helm’s visor up and smiles. She’s clearly cold, miserable and in her element. "Proper adventuring weather, no?
“We’re going to head west on the road for a day and then break north. There is a shepherd with a barn he’ll rent to us so we can stow the cart as long as we don’t fill his children with crazy ideas about adventuring as an alternative over sheep husbandry. We could’ve taken the road to Ordulin and then gone north across the Blackfeather Bridge but we like it out here in the wilds and we need to save time if we are going to beat the first snows.
" Laelin Blackhand has a good eye for finding places in the river to ford, so we’ll do so up near the Pool of Yeven, through Battledale and then into the Vale of Lost Voices along the Ravensroad. We’ll camp at the Standing Stone and then we’ll strike from the road, heading north into the great Cormanthor still untouched by human hands. There are trails and markers to Myth Drannor but it can be a devil of a time finding them.
“Besides entering and exiting the Myth itself, our biggest dangers are bandits along the Ravensroad and night-time in the Vale of Lost Voices. Few know it yet, but we aren’t going to Myth Drannor. Our quarry is sending a shipment of slaves just north of Myth Drannor in the ominously named Dead God’s Glade and when they get to this paradise, we’ll be waiting.
“You’ll find your rhythm with the camp. Hal, I wanted to ask you to be the company’s chronicler. Our last chronicler died in Archendale and I have no talent for such things.
“Nasharel, you and I should sit down and talk about what kind of officership you’d find rewarding. I’m honestly not sure what you can do, so we’ll talk and find you a place. In the Hunt, you’ll find that rank doesn’t mean much until life and limb are on the line. When that happens, I suggest the two of you stick to Vorass. She’s got a cool head and is used to easing recruits into our battle tactics.
“Speaking of which, a certain young lady wielding a maul came to me this morning to let me know that one of our officers was using the Z-word out in front of the Silver Shield. Know anything about that rumor, Hal?”
(Before heading out of Highmoon, I make sure to leave instructions on how to reach us via messenger should Susskia need to send one after. I seal them and leave them at Silverhand House.)
I ride out of Highmoon with some trepidation in my heart; after so many years as a wanderer, to have finally found a place to call home is priceless, but I know that what I am doing is right and just. With a final glance through the cold rains that presage the coming snows, I say farewell to Highmoon until our return.
After hearing Shasslan’s words, I reply, trying to keep a hold of my horse’s slippery bridle. "You honor me with your request. I would be the Hunt’s new chronicler, yes. Our glorious tale begins today as we all but swim along the road!
“If I may, I think you will find Nasharel a very eloquent and persuasive person, as well as the best singer your ears have heard.”
I ride close to Shasslan, trying to keep my voice as low as I can and yet be heard in the rain. "As for the “rumor” you heard, ‘tis true. It was late and I was tired and I slipped. I was careless and it won’t happen again, I promise this. I had followed Vor’s whereabouts after our meeting last night to another inn, where she had been apparently having a tryst with a Cormyrean wizard for a few nights. I have to ask, if you suspect her of being a spy, why entrust her with the last watch of the night at Highmoon? Or did you have her watched as well?"
“If she is a spy, she’s playing a long game, not a position where one shift on the barrel is going to matter. That said, none of us sleep well the night before we take leave…except maybe Hel, that man can sleep anywhere, anytime.
“Your excuse for the Silver Shield slip-up is not acceptable. If it happens again, I’m docking you pay. But look on the bright side, her coming to tell me about it either means she’s not a spy at all or she’s a very, very good spy.”
Before moving to the cart to check on a troublesome axel noise, Shasslan hands you the satchel for the chronicler officership. Inside is a heavy tome with a brass and wood cover, antlers etched into the front cover and the spine. Also there is ink, sand, a few feather quills and a small knife for sharpening the quills and a fold-up lecturn. Inside the front cover is a battered piece of parchment that is the Zhent-code the gnolls were carrying.
The parchment is covered in blocks of lines at different angles. The only sigil you know is the mark of clan Whitewyrm in the bottom corner.
Symbology, ob 5, if you want to try to decipher it.
I nod to Shasslan, understanding perfectly the slack she just cut me and vowing never to do it again lest I be thought a green pup.
My eyes fall upon the scroll immediately upon opening the satchel and it is a stab through my heart to see the sigil of Clan Whitewyrm in here. Could this actually be a Zhentarim message?
I’d like to attempt the roll, challenging as it is. Can I FoRK my Slavery-wise into the Symbology roll? My only hope then would be to roll 6s but I’ll worry about that later.
Thumbs up on the Slavery-wise. Go for it.
Can’t edit on the mobile interface. Symbology + Slavery-wise helping: 4,5,5,6 + 1 Fate artha 2 (traitor) = 4 successes.
No worries, I like it this way better, actually.
Over the next three days, Hal reads over the code, writes down pieces and breaks it down until these blocks of lines start to become patterns and the patterns turn into numbers and the numbers start to become words. Shasslan sees his progress and takes him off of his camp-related duties so that he can concentrate.
The Hunt Adventuring Company, in its first days on the road, looks for ways to occupy itself. Most adventures, it is guesswork at the weather when they reach their destination, who will have point upon entering a dungeon or who had the steamiest affair in the last town. With Hal trying to decode the message, the company has something to obsess over. Bets are made. Will he break it? Will he break it before they reach Cormanthor, the Dun Hills, Farmer Girasilde’s barn, the Standing Stones? Will his breaking it get them company into some kind of trouble?
When he is done, he knows that it was a message sent out among Bane worshippers, orc packs, gnoll murder-priests and slavers. They are looking for…some thing in particular, maybe some things having to do with the Whitewyrm clan but it isn’t clear why and it isn’t clear where they are supposed to go.
By the time you’re done, days have gone by and the group is in the Dun Hills, it is clear you can’t break the code. If you had another message, something else to compare and get more examples of their patterns, you could take another shot at it but for now, the Zhent-code remains a mystery.
Heldorm greets you once you’re done, slapping his diminishing gut, “Welcome back to the land of the living, Chronicler! You are on the barrel tonight, from the fourth bell, not that there’s a bell but you get the idea, until dawn. You’ll have Brother Vhelt to keep you company, with tales of the glory of Tempus, no doubt. You took your shot at the code and got farther than we did, that is for certain. Don’t let it vex you; the coming weather should do that all on its own. And look on the bright side, Mistress Zund made a fair amount of coin from your failed effort.”
Nasharel nudges you awake for your time on watch, or as the Huntsfolk call it, time on the barrel. The cool autumn air provides deep, dreamless sleep and it seems like you just closed your eyes. “Looks like the rain has stopped, my chronicler. Word around the company is that you will reach the Farmer Girasilde’s land before noon tomorrow. Good night”
She kisses your chin and goes to sleep, getting into your already warm blankets.
Camp was made at the base of a broken obelisk in the Dun Hills. No one was quite sure what the broken monument was marking. As if the reclaim it, vines and moss are growing all over it. The horses are sleeping below the hilltop where the cart and the camp is set.
Brother Vhelt Marrim is growing his first beard. He still has the rangy, long body of a youth, having not yet grown into his shoulders. His brown hair a short priestly cut and he wears the battered armor of a Priest of Tempus.
Vhelt speaks in hushed tones, rubbing his Sembian longsword down with an oilcloth, to ward off rust during the autumn rains. “Hal, I’m glad we get to meet. I’m so curious about our company’s newest officer. If I might, when you feel up to it, I’d like to tell you about the battle I survived in which Tempus blessed me with a vision and sent me on this path. Do you have any questions or thoughts? Is this obelisk of elven make do you think?”
Vhelt’s an eager kid, hence the questions. But feel free to drop multiple questions, we don’t have to strictly go back and forth, post for post but can kind of create a conversation as we go. Tomorrow, it’ll be after my lunch-break before I’ll be able to post anything after the early morning wake-up/e-mail check.
The patterns on the Zhent-code still dancing in my head, I take my post at the barrel, envying the warm spot I just left in the bedroll. I fill my cup with warm tea from the fire and take my place next to Brother Marrim. I am still too sleepy to bear the barrage of enthusiasm from the young acolyte but somehow I manage.
“Brother Marrim, a bit slower, please; half of me is still inside my blankets. Now, let’s see…
“The obelisk. Well, is it elven? Maybe, it’s hard to tell now by the flickering firelight, and I’m afraid I did not get a good look at it when we set up camp. It could be. When the elves allowed humans to settle the borders of this land, markers were set up in various areas to define the outer edge of the elven demesne. This could be one of those markers. Yet, who knows. Perhaps it was placed here by an older people, older than the elves (I cannot help but briefly hear my cousin Nethanel’s voice in my ears rambling about ancient Mulhorandi in these parts). Maybe by the gods themselves. There is a temple of Tyr in these hills; maybe it was his warrior’s hand that pushed this marker into the ground. Or maybe it was pushed up from below by the dark elves said to crawl underneath the earth.”
I smile into my mug of tea as I see the Brother’s wide-eye stare into the darkness where the obelisk stands like a broken sentinel, and I do wonder myself who placed it there…
“So tell me, Brother Marrin, for we have still a while before dawn’s light, the story of how you took up Tempus’s armor and sword, and how you joined The Hunt.”
I make sure my mug is full of tea before the acolyte launches into his sure-to-be-long story.
Marrim looks disconcerted for a little while at the thought of drow pushing monuments to the surface from the Underdark but he get’s past it and tells you his story. He delves into his life as a noble-born son…7th son of 10 children in a small barony in Sembia…
…and then a glorious battle with a nearby rival landed knight who had the nerve to…
…called by the Lord of Battles and from there, into the nearest temple…
…Tempus wrote in his Battletome…
Meanwhile, somewhere out in the darkness, something hungers for more than the hill goats it survives on and catches a wiff of elf-flesh.
Will roll, ob 1, to stay awake.
Perception, ob 4 to notice the troll sneaking towards camp. The troll rolled 2 successes on its stealth test. I think that would count as a test towards Observation but I might be wrong.
Will Test: 1,4,5,2 = 2 successes
It takes all of my willpower to stay awake during the entire recitation and keep a semblance of interest so as to not hurt the feelings of the young cleric. More than a few times I find myself wishing that instead of tea I was having some of that strong, dark, aromatic brew said to come from newly-discovered islands far off the shores of the west. It could certainly perk you up with but a sip!
In order to make this a test towards Observation the ob would have to be doubled to 4. I think I will play it safe here and go with straight up Perception. What I as a player perceive (no pun intended) to be is that Observation would tell me what I see, where Perception tells me there is something out there. That’s more up to you, though, but I’m cool rolling with that idea in mind.
Perception Test: 1,3,6,5 = 2 successes
Somewhere along the trip to the nearest temple of Tempus and the paean of deeds read from the Battletome I realize that the hairs on the back of my neck are standing and I’ve a strange feeling of being watched… and not by a common owl zone out a bit.
EDIT: Daniel, maybe I wasn’t clear but these rolls are taking place during your watch with the young priest. Sorry if that was unclear.
I had already doubled the ob, taking that into account. You’re way off on Observation, check it out, BWG, page 286. You hit the ob and I believe you take a check towards learning Observation, a very useful skill indeed.
“…and as Tempus stated, ‘If your enemy is of choleric temper, irritate him…’”
You notice a pair of eyes, reflecting moonlight among some rocks. When the creature curls up, it looks like just another boulder but when its eyes scan the company – no stone reflects moonlight like that. From there it is just a matter of making sense of the rest of it: the claws, the long green nose, matted hair on its head the color of dark moss.
“…it was quite clear that I had a destiny, that the Foe-hammer himself had plans for me…”
Its a troll, a young one, from the looks of it. It might be seven feet tall but definitely not the eight foot or more of the full grown bulls. It is looking at Narashel and it is drooling in anticipation of fresh elf-flesh.
“…and so, I’m an acolyte of Tempus, under the guidance of the wise Father of Battles…”
Daniel, I totally messed this up.
Hold on, you missed the Perception test. I thought it was 2 but its 4.
My bad. Let’s do this again. Hold on.
“…and as Tempus stated, ‘If your enemy is of choleric temper…’”
Brother Vhelt’s throat erputs mid-sentence, and he falls to the ground, quietly gurgling. Beside you is a young troll, seven feet tall, drooling in anticipation of an elf-flesh meal. But that is not what is eery about it. The troll’s eeriness is in how very quiet it approached. It skulked out of the hills, staying close to nearby boulders, at times even pretending to be a boulder until it was close enough to quiet Vhelt and attempt to silence you before taking its meal.
Steel test, your ob is your Hesitation. :):):):), we didn’t calculate your Steel, did we? Well, now’s the time. I’ll e-mail you the Steel questions and we’ll suss it out.
I calculated Steel based on the questions in the Character Burner section. Started with B3: no fighter-type LPs, not severely wounded, not killed more than once (though, maybe as a duelist in Raven’s Bluff this could’ve happened, but not sure), yes enslaved but Will is 4 so no change, no sheltered life, not Gifted nor female and ineligible for all the stat bonuses = B3.
Whether you killed more than once is entirely up to you. If you aren’t sure, sounds like he didn’t. Maybe one duelist died a few days later and the rest of the duels were to the first blood? Its an interesting way to learn something about yer character, I always thought.
As I created him, it didn’t strike me that he would’ve, no. Maybe some died afterwards, very possible, especially opponents faced during the escape from slavery or some other harrowing moment, but out-and-out killing, no, I think one, yes, but not more than that. I’ll leave the killing for in-game. So, B3 it is.
Your Hesitation is 6 and you are rolling 3 dice, ob 6. Don’t forget that dice in Steel tests explode. BWG, page 361.
Ok, here we go:
Steel Test: 6,5,3 → 5 = 3 successes
You have choices, always choices: Stand and Drool, Fall Prone and Beg for Mercy, Run Screaming. The effects of these things will last for those moments, 3 scripted actions in the Fight! mechanics until you snap out of it.
Stand and Drool it is. How does this interact with my Instinct should the troll threaten Nasharel? Also, yay, Fight!
I’m going to say that after the Stand and Rool is up you will be able to start in an Aggressive stance. Okay, so here’s how this works. Technically, we’ve started a Fight! but because of the failed roll, you are starting at a grave disadvantage. For the first 3 volleys of the Fight!, you are Standing and Drooling and the Troll will be free to script at will for the first exchange (exchange = 3 volleys, as you have a 3 reflects, you could script one action per volley).
Charge – Assess – Stuff Nasharel into a sack
The troll charges you, knocking you off of your feet with its bony forearms, knocking your breath from your lungs. It stops, keeping an eye on you but slowly looking around the camp to see if someone is stirring, glancing down at young Vhelt as he gurgles out his last breaths. The monster smiles, stepping over the priest as if he’s a log. It sniffs at the air until it reaches Nasharel, sleeping where you had slept, only a little while ago.
Its movement is fast and practiced, swooping her into its massive sack. You can hear her muffled scream as the troll sets itself to run out of the camp and into the dark hills.
If you don’t get up for your first two actions (BWG, page 455), you will be at a terrible disadvantage. Yelling does not count as an action, its FREE!…one syllable per volley. I will script his next exchange, we’ll compare scripts and we’ll go from there. Might be a good time to look over the Fight! rules. Take yer time; learning at your leisure is a bonus of the play-by-post forum medium, I think.
Alright, so first thing’s first, we have to figure out who has the advantage. Check out vying for position on page 436. The troll is disengaging, wanting to get out of there while the getting’s good. If you are engaging, then we need a versus test, even while you’re down, to note that you’re trying to keep this thing near you. +1 to your ob, vs the troll’s speed roll. Let me know what you roll.
The sight of Brother Vhelt dying in a pool of his own blood combined with the sudden appearance of the troll completely throws me for a loop and shuts me down. My mind is screaming to act, but my body just does not respond as it tramples me to the ground.
As I see the monster snatch up Nasharel like as if only a rag doll and stuff her into a sack, my muscles finally come under my control in a surge of rage. This troll is mine or I die here, tonight.
Engage Test: Speed B3 + 2D weapon length = 1,5,6,6,6 [insert Iron Maiden’s song here] – 4 successes
The Troll is at a +2 Ob disadvantage against me (431).
Get up (yelling “TROLL!!!”) – Get up (yelling once again “TROLL!!!”) – Strike
Strike – Strike – Avoid (its claws are fast weapons, it can strike every round)
Despite being on the ground, you stay close to the beast as it tries to break from the combat. Each time you yell, it strikes at you, trying to get past the point of your sword as you keep the tip right on the beast, daring it to make its way past the blade in order to use its claws.
It flails at you while you get up to no effect, in a great back-hand rake and before you are fully on your feet, it attempts to strike you again, that hand making it back across its body in the other direction.
Again, it misses as the camp begins to stir.
Someone bellows, “ARMS! Troll in camp!”
It attempts to jump out of the way of your sword as you attack.
Avoid, 1 success, taking 1 away from your successes, defensive actions are not penalized by advantage!
Nasharel’s dagger pokes through the bag as she attempts to cut her way out, the camp is grabbing its weapons and coming to your aid.
I’m reading the Anatomy of Injury section to learn how to take damage but it’s a bit confusing as I have not read in-depth the entire Fight section. From what I gather I have taken 1 hit from the troll’s claws but I’m not sure where to mark it on the PTGS. I will roll my attack and if there’s any adjustment to be made from damage, you let me know and we fix it.
I feel the slashing pain of the troll’s claws as they tear into my flesh but I ignore it as best I can. Dimly, somewhere in the back, I hear the stirrings of the camp: help is on the way. As I weave and dodge to stay close to the beast, I see a flash of steel from the sack—Nasharel’s dagger!
You are mine, troll.
Sword Test: 4,6,5,3 – 1 success from the troll’s avoid = 2 successes.
The troll never hit you because of the +2 ob of that initial positioning test you won. No hits.
The troll is offering its most heavily armored spot, its chest. You could bump up that hit to a Mark hit (B7) and take your chances with its armor roll or move the hit to the head, either arm or either leg and only do an Inconsequential (B4) hit.
Ah, ok, now I understand the flow of text above. It only got 1 success.
Tell me/give me a page # how to bump up a hit. For this one, I’ll go with moving the hit to an arm, the one holding the sack.
Simply, deftly, almost ungracefully, like so many back-alley scuffles in Raven’s Bluff began and ended, I thrust my sword forward after a miniscule feint, going right for the arm. They never expect to be hit in the arm.
Check out 463-466 for more on landing a blow.
2D on the armor check to the arm. 1 success. No damage.
The tip of the blade only scratches the troll’s thick hide.
Nasharel is sawing her knife down the thick, goat-hide bag, trying to get her way out but will need more time to do so.
With all of your focus on the troll, you only have a vague sense of The Hunt gathering around you but they are there. Most are not up yet but a few have joined you in their small-clothes, weapons in hand.
The members of the Hunt around you give you a bonus die on this Positioning test. The troll is trying to disengage and get the hell outta dodge = 1 success. Roll your Speed vs that 1 success and take a bonus die from your comrades.
Positioning Test: Speed B3 + 2D weapon advantage (436) + 1D comrades = 6,2,3,5,4,5 – 4 successes
I can tell the troll is trying to escape with its prey, but by Corellon, this beast will not elude me tonight. I prepare to swing my sword at its putrid green hide again.
I’m scripted for the next exchange.
Charge – Strike – Block
Now that the time for stealth is over, the creature bellows, sprinting at you, down a corridor of spear-points, leveled axe-hands and sword-points of the Hunt’s readied weapons.
Shasslan is standing on top of the cart, surveying the scene, calling for crossbows to be strung.
“Stand, strong, Hal!”
Take +1D as a bonus helping die from those around you and another +1D helping die from Shasslan’s Command skill. The other members of the Hunt are trying to get the troll to engage with you, as you are armored.
Strike – Avoid – Strike
The rush of dozens of moonlit bladefights come to me immediately as I brandish my sword at the beast. I feel my blood pumping—my human blood—feeding rage into every fiber of my being. I bare my teeth and prepare to meet the troll head on.
Sword Test: B4 + 2D helping dice = 5,6,6,1,1,4
Aiming for the chest.
The hit to the chest will be a Mark hit, if you open those two sixes with Fate artha, you could knock it up to Superior…. or it could be nullified by a successful armor roll…just sayin’. I’ll wait for your response before making the armor roll.
4 success, 2 go away to your advantage, 2 successes remaining. You are still on your feet but whatever you do for the NEXT volley will be at a +1 ob.
I’m opening both. Spend 2 Fate artha = 4,4 – 2 successes!
I take it the 4 successes you speak of are the troll’s Charge, right?
Yes, those success are for the charge. You only have to spend 1 fate to explode all sixes in a roll. Take one back.
2 successes on the troll’s armor roll. No effect.
The Troll charges as you scratch it with your sword. You can hear the crossbows lining up behind you but know that if they are forced to fire, a stray bolt could puncture the bag and Nasharel. Your beloved lady is sawing her way out of the bag but that could take a while yet.
The troll swings again with its claws but it can’t find its way past your sword to cut you.
2 successes but its +2 ob due to the advantage takes those successes away, no need to roll for the Avoid.
The troll grins, holding up the bag as its defensive action, blocking with the sack containing Nasharel.
1 success on the block (the positioning +2 ob does not pertain to defensive actions). I’m going to say that if you beat that, you don’t strike her and deftly attack the troll around the bag. If you fail, we’ll roll the Die of Fate and if it comes up, you’ll wound her.
Sword Test: B4 + 2D helping dice = 4,2,6,5,3,6 → spend 1 Fate artha = 6,4 → 5 – 7 successes
Once again at the chest.
2 successes again on the armor roll! Now you learn the efficacy of a weapon with VA.
Your skill is too great for the beast and you maneuver your blade around your love. Again you put your steel on the monster’s flesh but this is no Ravens Bluff duelist and its scaly skin repels your blade.
Shasslan calls for the crossbows. “FIRE!”
The beast is riddled with 3 bolts, dying a grizzly death. It is impossible to tell if any bolts went through the bag; for half of a minute, it is impossible to tell if Nasharel has been harmed by the bolts.
I think you should roll the Die of Fate. On a 1, Nasharel is hit. Roll again to see how badly she is hit. If the first roll is a 1, let me know what the second roll is.
Die of Fate: 1 → 2
You know when I said that I would pay for all those awesome rolls earlier? Here it is.
“Nasharel!” I drop my sword and run immediately to the sack, tearing it open. My heart sinks as I see that there is a perfect round hole in the sack where a crossbow bolt went right through…
You find her in the sack, along with a few smooth rocks about the size of a helm and a dead raccoon.
She smiles and grimaces at the bleeding hole in her shoulder. There is bleed in her hair and on her face. “I need to sharpen my damned knife more often. Troll or ogre?”
Father Crommlar kneels next to her and begins to inspect the wound. Shasslan puts a hand on your shoulder. “It is best if you let him work; let others who know the mending arts aid him.”
“I’ll be fine,” Nasharel croaks.
I kiss her hand as I step back to let the priest do his work. I take a moment to survey the scene: I look at the body of young Brother Vhelt, now in formation next to Tempus; I see the blood which once gave him life now pooled on the earth; I see the green beast lie lifeless, three crossbow shafts protruding from its body.
I walk back to pick up my sword, and with a determined stride I walk up to the body of the beast. I raise my sword in an arc and bring it down upon the troll’s neck. I do it again. And again. And again. Hacking away at the tough leathery skin. Hacking away at the fibrous muscle beneath. Hacking away at the rigid bone at the core. Hacking and hacking until I am covered in the splashing blood and the head rolls off. I then grab it by the hair, drag it across the ground and toss it right into the campfire, there to be consumed by the flames as the folktales say it should be done with such a beast. Frankly, as far as I care, I would’ve burned the beast anyway, folktales be damned.
This gory business done, I walk over to the body of Brother Vhelt, pick him up and carry him off to a place where we can later clean him up and offer him the last rites he deserves.
The priests come over to where you’ve laid out Brother Vhelt, on a slab under the broken, moss-covered monument and begin to ready him. In the rites of Tempus, they prepare him for battle, making sure his armor is secure, tying a weapon to his hand so that he will have it with him in the afterlife.
Battle-father Crommlar Muriel comes to you, stern, red hair in braids to keep it out of his face. “You were the last one to speak to Brother Vhelt. I will send him to the eternal battlefield but if you could say a few words or sing a song, that would be proper. There are other responsibilities that come to the last person who spoke to a follower of Tempus before they died in battle but we can discuss that another time, when the gore is washed from you.”
He puts his hands on your shoulders. “Would you do that, brother?”
Crommlar continues, “Nasharel will ride in the cart with Brother Szellim. I did not call on Tempus’ miracles because He already gave us a miracle when he placed that crossbow bolt. But she will likely sleep most of the day.”
I nod to the grave Battle-father and walk over to the body of Brother Vhelt, now washed, in his armor, well-oiled sword in hand.
“Tempus is not one for many words. Tempus is one for action. Young as he was, Brother Vhelt knew this and embraced it. As we stood guard last night, what would be his last words were all about the glories of battle, the blessings bestowed on him by the Foehammer, the offerings of singing steel he would offer the Lord of Battles in times to come. He only lies here today because he faced a cowardly foe, a lowly beast that knows not of the honor of war. Brother Vhelt would have made Tempus proud had the creature faced him in combat, of that let there be no doubt today or ever. Now, Brother Vhelt Marrim fares better than all of us, for he now stands in formation in the armies of Tempus, where he will reap honor in holy battle for his lord for all eternity. That is how we should remember Brother Vhelt. Tempus be praised.”
I then pull out my mother’s flute and play a short tune. It is a marching song I once learned from a drunken sergeant in Raven’s Bluff, a tune that starts slow and dirge-like, recalling the end of a battle as a soldier stands and sees all his comrades dead around him. But the pace picks up as the soldier walks across the field, picks up his banner and holds it aloft in the wind, showing their deaths were not in vain. The song staccatos as it picks up the mood, keeping the marching pace to the beat of a beating heart that has lived to carry on the memory of those fallen in war. It ends in a solitary note which rises in pitch and dissipates into thin air, carrying the souls of the departed to the glory halls of Tempus Foehammer.
The song done, I tuck the flute away and walk the back of the camp, looking for one of the barrels of water so I can wash the gore away.
Battle-father Crommlar Muriel nods at your words and your music, crying. “Well said and well played, Hal. I’m pleased the Powers brought you to us.”
While you wash the troll gore off of you, Brother Vhelt Marrim is buried beneath a forgotten monument to a forgotten empire in the Dun Hills.
The Hunt continues.
Shasslan’s announcement cuts the morning gloom. “We’re running behind schedule, Hunters. We’ve said our words over our fallen comrade and he has a fine resting place to mark his passing and march with Tempus. Camp is broken and we’re on our way before the sun comes over the hills.” The company’s grief is interrupted by duty and work.
“I’m glad you got to say something about Vhelt and play that marching tune; he’d have liked that. Your blade kept the troll at bay well, Master Whitewyrm but I’m sure you noticed that is all it did,” Vorass says to you as gently as she can, saddling her horse.
I look at Vorass from head to toe, intently, trying to peek into her soul. Dammit, is she or is she not a Zhent spy? She has little time left for me to figure it out.
“I noticed. I just couldn’t penetrate its hide. My sword was hitting true but damned if I could find a chink. I now understand why you would be so fond of that hammer of yours. I need to dedicate some time to practicing my martial skills more. A year in Highmoon has left me a little rusty, it seems.”
I am rewriting one of my instincts to “When I have down time, I always practice my Two Fisted Fighting Training skill.”
As we ride off I take one last glance at the broken obelisk before heading over to the cart where Nasharel lies sleeping. I gaze at her, knowing that it was only Tymora’s whim that saved her last night from going far beyond the western shores. I need to be more effective to protect her. Making sure she’s sleeping well, I then steer my steed next to Shasslan’s.
“The chronicle now bears the tale of Brother Vhelt. I wonder,” I say, dropping my voice, “how soon before it bears the tale of the Maul?”
As if summoned, Shasslan the Huntress clicks at her horse, bringing it up to you while you ride besides the cart, looking at Nasharel. “She’ll be fine. If we’d needed to take our stand on that hill, she would have been a bleeding mess but she would have been fighting right beside us. I’m glad Lady Luck has granted us time so that she can heal.”
The Huntress looks across the company, slowly winding its way through the Dun Hills. Her eyes lock on Vorass the Maul who is riding up front, riding with the Battle-father, arguing about where in the valley ahead would be the best spot to hide an army. Shasslan’s face grows cold.
“You have 3 days left. Or should I say, she has 3 days left. Deal’s a deal, chronicler.
“Nasharel is a fine officer of this company. I need to know that if she’s in danger and I give you an order, that you’ll allow her to fend for herself with her brothers and sisters in The Hunt while you follow my command.”
Before you can answer, Laelin Blackhand rides up from his scouting. “I found the troll’s lair, an old broken down bridge over a stream. It collected things from its victims and the Powers granted us this.”
The Blackhand pulls out a piece of paper with Zhent-code on it.
“Looks like the troll found a messenger from Zhentil Keep and didn’t like what he had to say. We’ll reach the shepherd’s barn a few hours after mid-day, captain.”
“Good, a short day will do well for us right now. Hal, you could do worse than asking Orlin for help. As a wizard, he knows his words and his symbols.”
Symbology, ob 4 to break the code. It won’t take you days this time.
I nod silently at all of Shasslan’s words, especially those about Nasharel. I need to remember that she is no girl, that she is a 140-something-year old Elf woman who has seen her share of troubles and survived even before she met me as a child.
I thank Laelin for his help, take a quick look at the scroll and decide to heed Shasslan’s advice to ask Orlin for help. I ride up to him and ask to have a moment of his time.
In as quiet a voice as can be mustered in the din of travel, I speak to Orlin. “Blackhand has recovered something from the troll’s den, something that could help me decipher the code I was working on. I was wondering if you could take a quick look at it as well and tell me if there’s anything there you recognize. Perhaps with your knowledge and my partial understanding of the previous one we might finally break this code.”
I’m assuming that Orlin will grant me a helping die. In that case…
Symbology Test: B3 + 1D Slavery-wise FoRK + 1D Orlin helping die = 3,4,4,4,5 – 4 successes.
By reading the code, you catch a glimpse of what it must be like to work with nothing but the most heartless of mercenaries, priests of Bane, gnolls, orc and goblins. Xerez of Zhentil Keep has put out the word that he is looking for artifacts from the Whitewyrm clan. But saying that is not enough. He is asking for any elven artifacts that are white, that have a dragon on them or engraved into them, for any artifacts that are of elven make that have emblems having to do with snow or winter. Xerez is casting a wide net.
For those who can offer him such treasures, he offers the finest slaves of Zhentil Keep and the exchange will occur in the Dead God’s Glade, north of Myth Drannor, just before the first snows. He warns that any who spill blood in the Glade or around it, interfering with his business, will earn the ire of Zhentil Keep.
But that is just your initial parchment.
The second parchment, the one found on the troll’s bridge, is older but not by much. this missive is from Manshoon and is calling for the heads of the Knights of the North. The parchment offers a 50 gold piece bounty for every body brought in that holds a tattoo or heraldry of the Raven of the North. The message warns against fake claims.
After working with Orlin to decipher the two scrolls for most of the day, I take the first opportunity to go up to Shasslan and Hel (especially one when Vorass is not nearby, just in case) to update them on this new development.
“Tymora seems to be in a happy mood for that’s twice in one day she smiles on me. Orlin and I have cracked this code and deciphered the message. The first scrolls is a message by Xerez the Madd; he seems to be hunting for anything at all that could be related to the elven clan Whitewyrm, which explains why those gnolls had the tapestry I bought from you. He’s cast a wide net and will exchange slaves for loot at the Dead God’s Glade right before winter begins.
“The new scroll is from none other than Lord Manshoon of the Keep offering a bounty for the heads of any and all Knights of the North. The Knights have a mission much like ours, which means we stand to lose allies if his message is heeded, and we stand to be the next targets if our mission is learned.
“I personally would hate to see allies in arms against the… against our foes be cut down for mere gold. But that message’s lead is far too vague. We don’t know where the bounties are to be claimed, or when. We would do well to keep a very open ear in case we can learn something as we travel. The Knights move in the Moonsea area to the north primarily, but if they are on the run perhaps some have moved south into the forest.
“However, this message by Xerez gives us a very clear mission to sink our teeth into, and it matches your intelligence about something happening at the Dead God’s Glade.
“These messages may give us a way to test our mercenary soldier over there a well. What if we should mention we are heading in one direction to pursue one of these leads, say Manshoon’s bounty, while we actually head in a different one, towards Xerez? If she is leaving messages behind she would misdirect whoever is following us and we would find out by the lack of a welcoming committee upon our arrival.”
Shasslan and you walk away from the barn where the company is taking items off of the cart and stowing items that would get in the way of fast movement. Nasharel is up, helping the hirelings with the horses.
Once you are out of easy ear-shot, the captain begins speaking in short, clipped words.
“Your proposal is that we let everyone, including a possible spy, know where we’re headed. If you’re right, then we won’t be ambushed. If you’re wrong, than we’ll walk into a deathtrap. Is that really your proposal? We risk the lives of everyone on your hunch, naye, your forlorn hope that she’s good? Because otherwise, if we misdirect, of course there will be no one waiting for us.”
“Furthermore, what if we are ambushed but she is not the spy? What if we are ambushed because you are wrong and we are all dead? What if we just wander in to a patrol?”
“It seems to me that the days are drawing nigh and you are having a real difficulty doing what needs doing.”
The company is staying away, knowing that there is an argument going on, but you see Battle-father Crommlar Muriel shoulder his way past Heldorm Umbrav.
“Is this tussle about the troll? Half the company thinks Shasslan is angry because it happened on Hal’s first watch. The other half thinks Hal is angry because of the way the camp was set up. There is nothing to it. These trolls can be cunning; I’ve broken bread with dwarves who swear upon anvils and axe-heads that a mine-haunt can move by your in a tunnel and you’d never know it. I’m sure the bridge-haunt’s like the one we dispatched are not so different.”
Shasslan shakes her head. “We’re fine, Cromm. We’re settled here.” Shasslan begins to walk away and Crommlar looks puzzled.
“The Nine Hells we are,” I say as I walk past Cromlar and Heldorm to stand right in front of Shasslan’s way.
In hushed-yet-angry whispers I say, “You have no more proof of her supposed treason than I have of her innocence, and I’ll be damned to Bane if I will let cold murder happen on a hunch. That is not the cause I joined, that is not the group I want to be a part of. I’ve now proven my worth to you as I’m sure she has over other battles and for far longer than I have been around. You speak of hunches and soldier’s instincts and I do not discount them, but this is not the outlaw hinterlands and we are not barbarians of the icy north. We do not need to misdirect with actual plans, but it could be the way to test her loyalty. Make up a destination, invent a mission, feed her—and just her—that. We then send our best scout to survey the results. Dammit, Captain, this is not the way of honorable people and if we do what you insist on doing I am telling you here right now with all the gods as our witnesses that we will be no better than the Black Network.”
My piece said, I storm off outside the camp.
Shasslan calls you, Father Cromm and Vorass to a private meeting, well away from the others.
“We have found proof that the Zhentarim are meeting with some bounty hunters who have live, battered members of the Knights of the North and will barter them to Zhentil Keep. We can’t let that be. We will be headed to a spring, southeast of Myth Drannor called Drowned Hope.
She manages to smile, "The Fall of Myth Drannor birthed such happy names. Vorass, Cromm, you are he two best heads for battle. I want you to cook up an ambush that get’s us the drop on our enemies and get’s the Knights of the North out alive. I don’t want anyone else in the camp to know what you two are up to; we might have a spy in our midst.
“Hal, you found the information, I thought you should sit in on the meet.”
As Vorass and Cromm walk away and begin talking, Shasslan whispers to you, “You’ll take the Blackhand and discreetly split from the group, leaving a day before the rest of us. That would be tonight, no farmers meal for you two. It will be up to the two of you if you watch the farm or watch the spring but I don’t want you seen. We’ll meet you just north of Myth Drannor. For the love of Lady Luck, go around the Myth. Happy, Hal?”
Yeah, it technically goes in the face of what we agreed in the DoW but it spawns adventure, so I’m happy with that.
I’d like to think that I pushed one of her buttons in return.
I nod to Shasslan and head to meet with Crommlar and Vorass. “So, what’s the plan, then?”
I listen to the soldiers’ plan for the ambush with the intent of determining which would be the best location to watch them, the farm as anyone leaves, along the way or at the spring. Though ultimately, it would be at the spring, the final destination, that the truth of the matter could be perceived. I consult my mental map of the dales and realize I know very little about the area with this spring, so I must look at my map as soon as possible to determine the best way to approach it and what to await.
Once the meeting is done and plans laid down, I head over to Nasharel to see how she’s doing and consult my map. Maybe she knows something about this area that I do not.
Nasharel looks pale, having been attacked by a troll and hit with a crossbow bolt just this morning but she’s well, though her shoulder is still tender. She sings the Song of Path and Ways, eyes closed, feeling the wind on the edge of the shepherd’s grazing grounds, the song sounds like tree branches blowing in a restless wind. When she opens her eyes, she gives some pointers on getting to the spring and in meeting them in the north. You make your good-byes, tender and heart-felt and she walks away.
Laelin Blackhand walks past her, a horse bridle in each hand and hands one to you. “I hear we’re taking a little ride. I have a bit of food and can find enough to eat in the forest once we’re gone…if we’re to be gone. The captain was vague. Care to clue me in?”
He smiles, watching you watch her walk away and gives you a moment.
Let’s consider her song a helping die to any Orienteering you are called on to make (Laelin has the skill) and if you want to write anything about how you say good-bye to her, that’s cool.
I run back to Laelin and grab the bridle, and together we grab the horses and set off quietly into the chilly night.
Totally forgot, but take a Fate point of artha for standing up to that troll and having your instinct get you into trouble. Also, another Fate for the Love and Family belief leading into adventure (which is a stretch, artha-wise but I think its kosher). Let me know if you see any artha that I’ve missed. Artha doesn’t come from on high but from the table, its consensus-driven.
You and Laelin are leading the horses into the night, about a mile from the shepherd’s fields when he breaks the silence. “Are you going to tell me why we’re going to a cursed grove southeast of the Myth, Officer of the Chronicle Elven Love-Demon?”
I’m still very much getting used to the various types of artha and how they can be gained, but yes, I’ll keep an eye out and ask if I think something qualifies.
“Elven Love-what?” I ask Laelin, a smirk on my face, as we ride deeper into the Cormanthor. I motion to Laelin to wait and we ride in silence for about an hour in the direction of the spring.
I have never liked this part of the forest. I don’t know if regular humans can feel it, but I have enough Tel’Quessir blood in me to be aware of the tinge in the air. It permeates everything, from trees to rocks to earth; the wind is heavy with it and the water carries its taste. I speak of the fallen Mythal, of the leftover magic of a bygone age. Everyone in the Dalelands knows to stay away from this part of the forest if they know what’s good for them, and with good reason. The stories of demons haunting the woods, of restless elven spirits wandering the once thriving lands of one of the greatest Elf empires in Faerun, these are more than scary tales told to misbehaving children. These are real, and even if I have never faced any of the dangers sung about in song, I can feel their darkness mixed in the fumes of the Mythal. I have never liked this part of the forest.
Once we are sufficiently into our journey and I am fairly certain that we are the only riders around, I speak to Laelin in low tones.
“Our mission tonight—a secret one, if that wasn’t clear enough by now—is to scout the glade from a distance. We are to observe and report what we see, nothing more ideally. I don’t know all the details as to why this needs to be done, but I do know it might involve the business of The Hunt. Based on Nasharel’s guidance and my map, we should be arriving soon. I need you to use your best roguish skills to find us an ideal location from where to spy the glade and not be seen. I defer to your abilities in this matter.
“Perhaps after tonight we will have a chance to talk you and I about our common enemy. But for now, let us to the task at hand.”
End of Chapter II
Chapter III: 11th of Eleint, Year of the Prince, 1357, Dale Reckoning
The Cormanthor is an ancient forest. It has seen dragons rule the continent and watched them become shadows of their former selves, hoarding in their lairs. The Cormanthor’s roots reach into the Underdark’s spite and its leaves have kept shade and shelter over elven grief.
Laelin leads you through the Cormanthor for a few days. He digs up delicious tubers and takes no chances with fires at night. Keeping watch between the two of you is exhausting work.
As you get closer to the spring, the oppressive, haunted pressure of the Cormanthyr increases. Laelin seems oblivious but the horses are skittish. "I reckon its the 14th by now. We’ll be coming up on the spring soon. It has a reputation for clear, cold, cursed waters. I should lead us in; Shasslan sent me because I can find my way in wild places, keep us fed and keep us from being noticed. The spring is a series of small waterfalls that feed a pool. There is an old fortified fallen tower, sealed up since the Fall. In the middle of the pool is a broken stone that gnolls and other unsavory folk use for fell rituals. There is a cliff face rising above it to the east with a nice wooded glade.
“I reckon that is our cover where we can keep an eye out and if there’s trouble below, we can see it and be gone in short order…I hope.
“Sound right, Chronicler?”
If his play is adequate, Inconspicuous is being unseen in a crowd, so, its not usable in this instance. I don’t see anything you could use to help him with his Stealth roll, so I’m just going to make the roll and add +1 to his ob because he has to cover for you.
I eye the area and accept Laelin’s word. The more time I spend in the forest, the more I realize that all my travels and travails, as much as they taught and shaped me, left me woefully underprepared to deal with the neccessities of wilderness adventuring. Give me a crowded street in a bustling city; give me a rowdy taproom with drunken mercenaries; give me a foppish noble with a dull blade – these I know, these I can handle. Dark trees in a demon-infested forest? Well… one never stops learning.
Beginner’s Luck Stealthy Test (Speed): B3 = 6,1,4 – 2 successes.
I follow Laelin to the wooded glade overlooking Drowned Hope. We tie and hide our horses a short distance away and skulk into the glade, hoping to any deity, woodland spirit and benevolent force that the path we picked, the steps we took, and the hiding spot we chose as we moved in will give us the cover we need to perform our mission.
Another day goes by before the orc ride into the glade. It is a trio, eaching riding a giant wolf with matted fur and black teeth. They do not notice either of you. The wolves begin lapping up water and the smallest of the orc stakes out tar-soaked heads around the glade, a warning and an announcement of their arrival and encampment. They unfurl a banner that you instantly recognize, these are King Obould ’s riders, from the Citadel of Many Arrows, a captured dwarven keep now held by the self-proclaimed orc king.
The leader of this pack or wolfriders has an elven longsword across his back, a fine blade, like the kind a swordswinger might wear.
They speak the Black Tongue among themselves, wolves included, without a word of the common tongue spoken until they take bundle off from the back of their leader’s saddle. They unwrap a gagged and bound elf boy and warn him with teeth and claws before they remove the rope gag.
“No singing, elf. Drink.”
The leader dunks the elf’s head into the glade, part drowning, part drinking. The boy comes up from the glade sputtering and choking, breathing hard. They put the gag back on and toss him to the ground.
The young looking elf is in a simple tunic, without symbol or ornament, short white-blond hair that must just be growing back from a shaved head. His eyes are a familiar shade of orange.
“Dammit, Tymora,” I mutter to myself. “And you had been smiling on me so well. I’m sorry, Laelin. Change of plans,” I say as I start to move away in the direction of the spring. “If you can rescue the elf-boy do so. If not, mark our direction and pray we meet safely again.”
I walk down the forested path to the spring, emerging a stone’s throw away from the riders. I do not make any extraneous noise but I am not hiding as I walk to the water to drink.
“By Bane’s balls, where is this damned meeting place supposed to be?” I say somewhat loudly to myself, hoping that catches their attention.
Conspicuous Test: B2 = 4,5 – 2 successes.
The orcs look confused, and so they look to their leader. He steps right up into your face. You can smell his poisonous breath as his fanged maw makes the common tongue. His eyes glow like coals and are filled with cunning earned through a brutal life among the orc legions.
“Meeting place? Here, is it? Are you lost, little half-elf?”
One of his riders laughs, “He’s only half an elf, in an old elf-forest like this, maybe he can only find half his way there.” The wolves join in, snorting laughter.
The wolves and the orc begin making a circle around you. Between you and the elf-boy is their leader, who introduces himself.
“I am He Who Cleaves the Heads of King Obould’s Enemies from their shoulders and puts them Upon Stakes for all to See.” Head-Taker takes out his elven longsword. Its handle is a white dragon’s head and you can see that as the sunlight hits it, etched snowflakes dance up and down the length of the blade.
“Who are you claiming to be, little half-elf?”
I think we’re lookin’ at a Falsehood check at double ob…so, ob 4 becomes ob 8. We don’t have to roll it just yet. Let’s role-play a little bit but I want you to know that they do not trust you and that this roll is likely coming.
Mother, help me.
I stand as tall and proud as I can in front of Head-Taker, using every ounce of willpower I have to remain steadfast in his presence.
“I am Hal Stephaln, vagrant duelist to some, bane of freedom to others. I am a seeker of the lost, whom I deliver to those who pay well for the servitude of the weak. I sell my services to those who pay well, and then again to those who pay better. And I seek the meeting place marked by the wizard from the Zhentarim for the exchange of elven goods for slaves and gold. I greet you, He Who Cleaves The Heads of King Obould’s Enemies From Their Shoulders and Puts Them Upon Stakes For All To See.”
And without looking away from Head-Taker, I say to the one who made the quip, “I am Half-Elf, you Nameless, and you will remember that lest I make you not forget it.”
Laelin Blackhand comes out of the shadows, loaded crossbow tossed over his shoulder with a sneer on his face that looks natural. The angle he chose to walk out of the forest puts him outside of the semi-circle formed by the pack. “Crew’s all set, Master Stephaln. As soon as I give the word, they’ll meet us ahead, as ordered. I just wanted to see if you needed any help with these lot. The Orc King’s wolfriders are nothing to face down alone.”
“You don’t have anyone with you,” the Head-Taker says, looking over Laelin’s shoulder into the forest.
“You didn’t know I was here a moment ago, didja? You wouldn’t have known any of us was here if our valiant vagrant duelist leader hadn’t decided to walk into your camp and introduce his damned self.”
Two of the wolves stare out into the forest and their tails go between their legs. The other orc with the Head-Taker are looking out into the trees with panic in their eyes.
The Head-Taker points at Laelin with his sword. “Something’s wrong with you bastards; I don’t like you showing up at our watering hole one bit.”
Laelin’s crossbow isn’t aimed at anyone specifically, but its out and ready.
It might be time to roll the dice soon. If and when that is, Laelin offers you a helping die from this little performance.
“Head-Taker of Obould’s Enemies, there is no need for alarm. My men and I seek to deliver our goods, not to tangle with mighty orcs of the Broken Arrow. The spring of Drowned Hope is on our way north to Zhentil Keep, skirting the elven ruins. The way is arduous on our slaves, but not impossible, and it allows us to travel from the Dalelands with our merchandise without pesky interruptions. Meeting your band here this night is pure luck.”
As I say this, somewhere in the back of my mind, it suddenly becomes horribly clear that the knowledge of the Dalelands-Zhentil Keep forest route is something I picked up during my time in Xerzes’s dungeons. Worse, quite probably this is the very same route traveled by my pregnant mother when she was captured and sold to the mad wizard.
“I wonder, however,” I continue, trying to clear my head from such thoughts and concentrate on the dangerous task at hand, “why King Obould’s troops would wander so far from his Citadel? Then again I see you bear a captive and a ransom at your back. Perhaps we seek the same person, someone procuring elven artifacts in exchange for slaves and gold? What you bear there strapped to your back certainly seems like a valuable treasure and matches the description given out by the wizard. Is the elf-boy part of the transaction as well?”
Beginner’s Luck Falsehood (Will): B4 + 1D Laelin = 6,4,6,6,1 + 1 Fate artha → 1,4,5 – 6 successes.
“Only a fortnight or less journey from where your elven highfather and the One Who Never Sleeps did battle, leaving a gorge in their wake and here we are, half an elf and an orc matching wits.”
“Know what I think, Hal?” the Head-Taker spits out your name like a curse, not respecting any name that was not earned through proper orc ritual before Grummsh’s cruel eye.
“I think you are two scouts for the Knights of the North. I think if we were to examine your corpses, we’d find raven tattoos on your asses. I think you have no back-up. You broke enough of the Zhent-code or have a spy with good enough information and it led you here and when this turned out to be the wrong place, you did your best with lies and failed.”
The rest of his pack are noticing a familiar tone in the Head-Taker’s voice and are becoming nervous, ready for blood to be spilled at any moment.
“So, we’ll settle it like this. You’ll throw down your weapons and your gear and we’ll lead you to Xerez and see what’s what. If my suspicions are correct, we’ll sell you to the wizard along with our elf boy. If I’m wrong, you’ll have my sincere apologies and everything that belongs to you returned. Keep in mind that we only need one of you alive, so if one of you tries to run between here and the meeting-place, we’ll catch that one on wolf-back and kill the other slowly in front of the would-be escapist. Deal?”
He holds the elven sword on his shoulder, casually but ready to strike.
Laelin Blackhand, for the first time, looks nervous. His crossbow is on his hip, still making a pretense at being casual but ready to fire at the Head-taker.
Tymora, you bitch…
I look at Head-Taker in the eyes. Whatever happens, whatever I think, I keep looking at the orc in the eyes. I am aware of the other two orc, of their great wolves, of the running water which right now at this very moment takes its name from my own feelings. I sense Laelin behind me, nervous. Dammit, Laelin, why couldn’t you heed my words and stay in the forest? Now I have your life to think about as well.
Mother, it has come to this, I think. If you have any way to catch the ear of Lady Luck, I pray you beseech her to watch over me as I take this next step. Let Nasharel know that I love her.
Three orc, three wolves. One rogue with a crossbow, one would-be hero with a sword and a song. One Abyss-cursed, worm-ridden, rotten-hearted Zhent slaver whom both of us have a debt to repay.
Tymora, you bitch…
“Deal,” I say as I take off my scabbard and dagger and let it fall at Head-Taker’s feet. “Let’s go see Xerez.”
Laelin looks like he is about to vomit in fear as he puts down his crossbow. The Head-Taker sneers at him.
“You thought you could put a bolt in me and perhaps the rest might run in fear, hm? You’ve heard that orcs run, that they are tough in the first volleys but are easy to rout, hm?”
Laelin doesn’t respond.
“You don’t know this breed of orc; you don’t know the monsters who gather under the Many Arrows banner and end the knee to the first true orc king in history. Hal, here, just saved your life…for now.”
He Who Cleaves Heads of King Obould’s Enemies from their shoulders and puts them Upon Stakes for all to See signals to the least of his two orcs to retrieve your weapons and then barks at the other in Black Tongue to look at the elf boy, who had nearly gotten his gag from his mouth. For a few minutes, he argues with his wolf-mount, a gray bitch the size of a pony.
“Sorry if we’re being rude, half-elf. Stormcloud thinks that you are only waiting for a moment of weakness on the road so that you can ambush us. I argue that perhaps you are speaking true and then we can show such mercy and let Xerez of Zhentil Keep know full well that he is not dealing with common orc from the some broken tribe in the hills.
“I think the two of you are an opportunity for us to show how very civilized we are under Obould’s rule.
“We’ll rest here for the day and set out at dusk, traveling by starlight. The water is said to be from an elf warrior-maid’s tears after she drowned her own children rather than let demons have her family when Myth Drannor fell. Have yourself a drink; its delicious.”
After we have set up camp for the coming day, I ponder these orc from King Obould’s band. By all that I know about orc, I should be dead the moment he smelled that I was not being entirely truthful. And yet here I am, alive for the moment—in dire straits, but alive. Head-Taker speaks of orc civility, of a new type of orc, not a “common orc” but civilized under Obould’s rule. This is marvelous, confusing and terrifying all at once; a kingdom of such orc could very well spell doom for a large part of the land.
Moving my thoughts to more pressing matters, I find a moment when I can sit by Laelin and speak with him out of earshot of the orc and wolves, or at least as possible as that is given our situation. “Be strong and steadfast. Above all, be strong and steadfast. And do not do anything foolish that can get us killed. Doing foolish things,” I add with a small smile, “seems to be my job.”
Every time I drink water from the spring I consciously call to mind the source of the name as told mockingly by Head-Taker. To me, that sorrow is strength, and I hope to draw some of it into my being. I think of Nasharel and wonder if I will see her again; with Sune’s and Hanali Celanil’sblessings I know I will. I know the orc think it funny to have the elves drink from these waters of sorrow, but I drink them proudly to elevate the sacrifice of that elf-maid to the heavens.
At every opportunity I can, I sneak looks at the gagged elf boy and his eyes of an orange known all-too-well to me—a connection I am extremely glad these orc have not noticed between their gagged captive and myself—and at the sword Head-Taker carries with him. The blade, the handle, it all screams Whitewyrm to me.
I also hope the Hunt can figure out what happened, though I doubt that very much. We are on our own, and we will face Xerez, and possibly our deaths, alone. And soon.
The weather is crisp autumn cold and clear nights; the ancient trees hide the stars.
You walk through the night with the orc pack and they adjust their pace so that you can keep up. One of the Black Hunters suggests you keep your hands on his saddle because traveling by night in the Cormanthor is walking in total darkness that only the orc’s eyes that burn like coal can pierce. Head-Taker checks the hunter’s saddle carefully, making certain that no weapons are available to you. The elf boy is trundled up like a pig, set on the front of the Head-Taker’s saddle.
When the first light of dawn spills overhead, a Black Hunter returns and you can see that you had been walking all night with only two orc and their wolves. Head-Taker had sent one of his Black Hunters ahead to scout the Dead God’s Glade. The scout gives his report in the Black Tongue, that to your ears sounds like grunts and snarls and vomiting mixed with nails scratching on slate.
The scout found something to be wrong in the glade, where Xerez was supposed to wait for his treasures.
You have made camp at the base of a cyclopean tree so large that you can’t see the leaves. During the next day, while the wolves and orc take their turns resting and watching you, Laelin approaches. He has gotten ride of the black hand that was over his breastplate, stained it entirely with berries so that the hand is no longer noticeable. You speak in hushed whispers.
“Why do they fear that child, so? What magic could an elven boy know that would threaten them so thoroughly? They check his gag as if their lives depended on it.”
“We’re headed north. Something is wrong; their rider came back with tidings from the Dead God’s Glade and smelled something rotten. We’re about half a day west of the Myth. We’re headed to Zhentil Keep, dammit…into Bane’s own blood-soaked den.”
“The elf-lad—and I hesitate to call someone older than both of us a lad were he not an Elf—my best guess is that he has the power of Elven Songs at his disposal. They were very clear in their threat to him that first night: no singing. My other guess is that that sword Head-Taker carries about on him all the time belongs to the lad. I have heard stories of Sword Singers, elves whose blades sing the songs of deadly battle, but I would not know how to recognize one. Were that Nasharel could help.
“The lad might be our wild card to get out of this mess. I don’t know how, but getting that gag off and letting him Sing is something we should strive to do if and when the right opportunity presents itself.”
The snows will begin soon, I think to myself as I ponder Laelin’s news. But not before we arrive at our destination.
“We need to find out what is going on at the Glade. The hour of reckoning approaches, Blackhand: the mad wizard or the cursed city—one of them is our destiny, and we will soon know which.
“Remain vigilant of the area. During the day we have a slight advantage. I will return.”
I walk over to where Head-Taker speaks to the orc rider, remaining a few paces away. When they are done conversing in their infernal language, I ask of Head-Taker, “Are there problems up ahead in the Dead God’s Glade? Has Xerez reneged on his promise?”
Can I do a Foreign Languages Beginner’s Luck test to understand the Black Tongue or would I need an instructor for the first lesson? Perhaps I can have the rough basics for an initial test from having heard it on and off during my youth in Xerez’s dungeons?
I’m fine with you being able to piece that together with a Beginner’s Luck test. Ob 3 doubled to Ob 6.
The Head-Taker squints at you, head obviously hurting at the hour of Highsun. When you approach he is talking in low tones with Stormcloud, clearly his most trusted adviser.
“Apparently, a few different parties showed up and got into a fight in the glade. A company of mercenaries, a murder of gnolls and a band of Red Wizards had a conflict. The Red Wizards starting throwing around arcane fire and the glade is on fire. I want no part of such a conflict, though there is the possiblity of running through and taking that which can no longer be held. Tempting…
“But no, we’ll head north to Zhentil Keep and make our exchange there.
“Unless there’s more you can tell me about this mischief. Any of your raven-knights we should be warned about on the road to the keep? If you tell me the truth, I’ll kill your friend quickly and sell you as a slave at Zhentil Keep. A half-elf with skills like yours might find a good life there in chains. What do you say?”
If you succeed the roll, you’ll get more information on the inner-workings of the pack and what is going on among them. If you fail, you remain in the dark and might catch words out of context that you don’t fully understand.
Foreign Languages [Black Tongue] Beginner’s Luck Test (Perception): B4 = 4,6,6,5 + 1 Fate artha for Luck → 4,4 – 6 successes! Tymora smiles on me again.
“As I told you, He Who Cleaves Heads of King Obould’s Enemies from their shoulders and puts them Upon Stakes for all to See, I have nothing to do with any Knights, be they of the Raven, the North, Myth Drannor or Bane’s Ass. That sounds like nothing more than petty, power-hungry infighting between short-sighted fools with too much greed and very little wisdom, nothing more.
“It might be a good opportunity to seize some loot… For yourself and the glory of King Obould, of course. It’s what I would do, given the gnats have taken care of each other already. Besides, that IS the meeting point. I doubt Xerez would let a mere fire he can extinguish with mighty sorcery derail his precious quest.”
October 04, 2011 14:49
You pick up words here and there, words in the orc’s language you learned while in slavery and bits and pieces of the elven tongue seem slipped in there, as if the languages were somehow related in ancient times.
It is worse than they are letting on in the common tongue. Xerez lost some scouts and some troops in the conflagrations and was seen leaving the glade, unable to get any intelligence about what is really going on. From what the scout says, you can smell The Hunt all over this. The battle prowess of Battle-father Crommlar Muriel and Vorass the Maul led by Shasslan the Huntress with a touch of Orlin the Illusionist is at work here.
The orcs aren’t sure if this is the Knights of the North, in-fighting among evil folk or some kind of Zhentarim trickery. They are far from Obould’s keep and are not used to dealing with these kinds of delicate situations. The strain is showing and they are clearly not fighting more in an effort to show a united pack in front of you and Laelin.
Stormcloud growls at your suggestion. Head-taker scowls.
Persuasion, ob 4.
Persuasion Beginner’s Luck Test (Will, Ob 8): 1,1,6,1 – 1 success. Gotta fail to learn. Two more Aptitude tests and I get Persuasion.
My words sound hollow even to myself. But we need to make it by the Glade; we need the Hunt to meet with us. I just don’t see how either of us can outrun a great wolf…
“It is, of course, your choice, Head-Taker.”
“I know damned well whose choice it is, half-breed.”
There is a moment that night, traveling in the dark, stumbling through the Cormanthor and you come to Myth Drannor marker, a stone plinth with markings from those days when dwarven artisans, elven singers and human sorcerers made magic that has not been seen since. The orc are looking it over, making sure they have not wandered too close to the ruins.
A wolf whose name you do not know, who rides the less respected of the two Black Hunters turns to you and with his snout, struggles to form the awkward, whispered words, “Escape. Please. Us. Please. Escape.”
When the orc mount up, the talking omega wolf won’t even look at you.
From the look on Laelin’s face, he doesn’t like this at all. In the distance, you can smell the Red Wizard’s smoke. You are so close to the ruins of Myth Drannor that you can feel the Mythal, like a distant hum of arcane power in the air.
Daniel, feel free to ask me where things are or to draw a little map if you want to get an idea of how things are situated before doing something reckless and awesome and possibly suicidal.
The lesser hunter is watering the elf-boy at dawn, pressing his face into pond-water so that he doesn’t have the time nor the ability to draw enough breath for a song. The rest of the orc are busy – posting the heads and the banner, removing the harness from the wolves and eating raw deer-meat when the omega approaches you again.
“Escape? Plan? Myth Danno?” it whispers and then walks away before anyone can see.
The camp is at a small pond. There is a marker here, some remnant of Myth Drannor that has lost meaning.
The Foulwing lands on a branch without a sound, emitting some kind of bullfrog croak to announce its rider’s presence. From the letter on the harness, you can tell the beast and its rider are from Zhentil Keep. The rider has a spellbook strapped to her lowerback, attached to her belt be a black chain. Her armor is the black boiled leather common to the Foulwing riders and a sleek helm. She is holding a long barbed spear.
Foulwings are used in aerial raids and also for tracking down escaped slaves.
“What brings you to the forest with hostages, orcs?” she asks.
The Head-taker steps among the rotting heads posted to mark the camp. “We seek Xerez. We have good for him and an offer from King Obould himself. I am ”/campaigns/the-song-of-hal-whitewyrm/characters/head-taker-obould" class=“wiki-content-link”>He Who Cleaves Heads of King Obould’s Enemies from their shoulders and puts them Upon Stakes for all to See. Who are you, beastrider?"
The beast’s slobber rubs color from the bark as it rips a branch off of the tree and begins to digest it. Its smell is otherworldly. Your body has no idea how to process such scents and so it reverts to revulsion and nausea.
The wolves are growling, bristling with anger, teeth bared, hair on their backs standing on end.
The rider responds, “I am Reltav, an apprentice of Xerez. I am prepared to pay you in hard gold or slave vouchers, He Who Cleaves. What do you have of the Whitewyrm Clan?”
“I take Heads for the Orc King and as my station demands, I want to sit down with Xerez at the very least and Manshoon if Zhentil Keep wishes to honor its relationship with the Keep of Many Arrows and make that relationship stronger. I am not a gnoll murder-priest, nor am I a mercenary with an outlaw’s brand on my cheek.
“Surely you know Hal Stephaln,” the Head-Taker says, taking his sword out, “famous bounty hunter…”
“I don’t. Should I?” she asks from atop her Foulwing that is currently defecating on a Cormanthor tree, its otherworldly secretions stripping the bark of all color.
When you were in slavery, Xerez never had an apprentice.
Enough stratagems; it’s time to duel.
“You wouldn’t know about me,” I tell the witch-rider, "the same way I do not know of any apprentice to Xerez. I bid you greetings, however, as two who have toiled in the Arts and under the wizard’s thumb. I too sought the meeting grounds laid down by Xerez for the seeking and exchange of artifacts from the Whitewyrm Clan of the Tel’Quessir when I encountered the orc of King Obould’s retinue and became their ‘traveling companion.’
“Tell me, witch-rider, what is the wizard offering in exchange? What is sought by the wizard? Would you deal with Men or with Orc?”
Do not let me down, Tymora.
Reltav flips up the visor on her helmet, looking at your eyes. There is recognition there, though you are sure the two of you have never met. She heard you and is making connections.
Stormcloud turns on you, drool, falling from her curled lip. “Trying to turn us against each other, half-elf? Playing games?”
As always, the Head-Taker has the flat of his elven blade on his shoulder, considering the situation.
“Xerez is looking for artifacts pertaining to the Whitewyrm clan, a family of elves who were among the first to head west when their monarchs called. I dare not guess why but I’d imagine it has something to do with knowing one’s enemies. He offers gifts of slaves and gold.
“Zhentil Keep is not like the Dalelands or the Sword Coast where a creature’s species and religion are held against them. We are a free city and are open to trade with any who can bring goods to the market-place. Zhentil Keep is the true inheritor to Myth Drannor’s poor attempt at a united city.
“Head-Taker, I cannot offer you what you wish. I am a mere apprentice and can offer you nothing but gold or slave vouchers that can be cashed in with any Zhentarim from here to Luskan. I’d like to trade with your prisoners here, unless you wish to claim them as your property.”
The Head-Taker shakes his head. “We made a deal. You may trade with the half-elf and his pet human. As long as they truly have any Whitewyrm artifacts for trade, which I severely doubt. Stormcloud, here, thinks that he is a refugee from the Citadel of the Raven. Time of truth, Hal. If he has something, I will return his weapons and you will tell your master that I am no orc from some backwater hill!”
The witch-rider looks at you, amused at the mess. “What do you have to trade, Master Hal and what do you want in return?”
I look at Stormcloud, pondering how the mount seems to have as much say as the named orc that rides her… But that is secondary at the moment, a thought for another occasion.
“He Who Cleaves Heads of King Obould’s Enemies from their shoulders and puts them Upon Stakes for all to See speaks truth. Or rather, part truth.
“I have in my ownership an artifact of this clan, a tapestry which tells the story of Sul Whitewyrm. I… rescued it from a band of mercenaries and adventurers who knew nothing of its value to the right buyer. I do not, however, and as you can plainly see, have it with me. The forest is no place for such an ancient piece of history if it is to be of any use to an interested party. The artifact is stored safely in Deepingdale at the moment.
“That is what I offer Xerez: the tapestry of the history of Winter’s Lover, Southron Sword, the Sad Immortal – Sul Whitewyrm.”
I let the words hang in the noxious air of the clearing, fully aware that I have just played the most dangerous hand of cards in my life. As I let the pause lengthen, I take note of everyone’s location around me: Head-Taker, the namesless orcs, the omega wolf, Laelin and the elf-lad.
I await the witch-rider’s reply, hoping to every single divine being I can think of that this poor excuse for a plan works…
Reltav nods her head, intrigued.
“Foulwings are stealthy creatures who do well by night. We will fly into Deepingdale, retrieve your prize and fly it back to my master at Zhentil Keep. No Dalelanders will be the wiser.
“He Who Cleaves, we will meet you up north with Master Hal’s manservant.”
“I’d hope so,” the Head-Taker responds. “We have a far greater artifact that some rug. We have the Whitewyrm heir, Second to Lord Whitewyrm himself.” He yanks the elf-boy into view.
“Xerez will be eager to barter for your piece of the Whitewyrm legacy, I’m certain.”
“Master Hal, have you ever flown before?” Reltav asks, bringing the foulwing onto the ground, where the creature moves like some kind of rancid toad.
Laelin asks if he could have a word with you before you go. The greater of the Black Hunters gives you both your weapons back. The tension that has been in the air, the threat of imminent slaughter at the hands of orcs and great wolves has dissipated and turned into something new.
Our gear restored, I stand to one side with Laelin, so we cam confer for a moment before I fly south on the wings of a fell beast.
“Speak to me, oh Hunter.” As I listen to Laelin I’m keeping an eye of the camp and everyone’s position and body language.
A steady rain begins.
The camp get’s up and starts moving. Head-taker has decided to push on through the day, as dark clouds are covering the sun and he is eager to push on and reach Zhentil Keep. They are largely ignoring you, assuming that your lies were just the lies of a Zhent bounty hunter and not from the Citadel of the Raven.
The witch-rider is altering her saddle to allow for an extra rider. The foulwing starts to let off a mist as the rain its it and its smell wafts off of it, letting you know why it is named as such.
You and Laelin have a moment.
“I thought I might try to lose them in the rain but no, it will rouse suspicions. I’ll meet you at Zhentil Keep, brother.”
He holds out his hand to grasp wrists and shake, the look in his eye is familiar to you, not only from these past days but from your life in slavery, living while others hold your death over you as a constant threat.
From the sounds around you, you can tell that the pack will be ready to leave soon.
I shake Laelin’s hand strong, trying to let him know how sorry I am to have dragged him into this, and giving him strength for whatever ordeals he has ahead. “You are a resourceful man; use that and live. Know the omega wolf, the one with the lesser namesless orc, might be an ally to escape, whatever that could mean in the future. We will have our time with destiny soon.”
Our words said, I make my way to the miasmic beast and its witch rider. Before reaching it, however, I make a detour to where the orcs have the elf-lad tied up. I stride purposefully, hoping the strange trust (if it can be called that) that has descended on this motley assembly allows me this liberty, and crouch in front of the tied up Elf. I keep my face emotionless, stoic and perhaps a tad too serious as I study the beaten up young elder in front of me.
Brusquely, I take hold of his ear and pull his head up so I may see his face. I slap him a little too hard on the cheek, the way someone unconcerned with this boy might be, to awaken him. When his eyes open, however slightly, I stare into them hard. I keep my mouth a thin angry line as I look at the only other pair of crystal orange eyes I have ever seen in my life, and I hope to all the Seldarine that he can see past my mask, into my eyes, into that immortal part of my mixed soul and understand that I am giving him all the will to live I can muster in the second or two I dare do this and hope no suspicion is aroused. I roughly let go of his head and stand up, looking down on this scion of Whitewyrm. I realize the turmoil inside me has reached such a point that my feelings have gone numb to protect me, which makes the last part of my act, spitting at the elf-lad’s feet in disgust, possible to accomplish.
As I walk away I look at Head-Taker and nod, “’Till paths meet, Head Cleaver.”
Holding my breath I walk to the foulwing and climb on the saddle with the Zhent witch, not knowing how in the Nine Hells I am going to get out of this mess I am in.
The smell of the beast is dreadful.
Health check, ob 1. If you fail, you vomit and you are at +1 ob due to nausea until you have some significant time away from the beast.
“Hold on, bounty hunter,” Reltav says with a smirk, putting her visor down. She makes clicking noises at the mount.
The foulwing takes a frog-like jump, lands on the top of a tree and as it begins to awkwardly plunge through the high up branches that cannot hold its weight, its wings beat the air on either side of you. You feel the powerful pull as you and the Zhent rider are launched into the sky.
The otherworldly beast ascends in a circular pattern, allowing you to see Laelin, the heir of Whitewyrm, the orcs and the wolf pack grow small as you rise higher and higher. Before you hit the clouds, you catch a glimpse of Myth Drannor, white walls and crumbling spires slowly choked by Cormanthyr’s green fingers.
Within the cloud it is cold and wet and then the witch-rider clicks, digs in her heels and the flying beast flaps its wings hard again and you are above the clouds. Above you is a stunning sunset and below you lightning flashes at different points of the storm. It should be cold but the foulwing gives off almost as much heat as it does stink.
Reltav points down at the clouds and yells back at you. “Pegasi! Look…”
A heard of winged horses moves in the distance, seeming to run on the tops of the clouds as if they were some kind of holy orange and red steppes above the world. The herd provokes some kind of predator/prey instinct in the foulwing and it inhales air, making itself double its size and emits and unholy croak that seems to reverberate into the horizon. Reltav pulls on the reigns, puts her fingers on particular places on the monster’s skull and it slowly deflates as the pegasi fly away.
“We’ll be Deepingdale tonight as long as my direction sense is good and this storm doesn’t get any of Bane’s fury in it.
“Back in the mud, you implied that you knew Xerez. Care to explain? Seems to me that you were playing a dangerous game with that pack back there.”
Health Test: 1,6,2,1 – 1 success. Just barely made it!
Precarious situation and noxious beast aside, I can’t help but marvel at the experience of flying over the land. It is truly magical.
I hear Reltav’s question and think on how to answer it. It is certainly a long way down to the ground and I don’t feel like finding out how it feels to fly on my own.
“Indeed I was playing a risky game, but Tymora doesn’t bless the safe bet. I just needed to arrive at the meeting place in one piece. Which I did.
“As for Xerez, I don’t know him that well, but I have certainly heard of him and his prowess. I spent my youth in the lands near the Keep and his name would be spoken of by the campfire by travelers met on the road or told by mothers to keep their children straight. ‘Do as yer told or you’ll end up a slave of Xerez the Mad,’ they would say, no insult to your master intended. But indeed, I do not recall hearing in any tale that the wizard had an apprentice under his tutelage. The stories portrayed a man sure of his power in the Art and wary of anyone close to him.”
“Pegasi! I’ve been griffon hunting but I’ve never seen the winged horses. Too bad we don’t have time; I hear they’re delicious. Sometimes the Murder and Mayhem pays off with views like that and handsome half-elven company.”
She reaches back and squeezes your knee. “Feeling alright? Toad isn’t making you sick, is he?”
Falsehood check for your lies about Xerez. The consequences are only that she’ll know something is up and will very well act on it later. Ob is her Will, which is 4 but if you don’t have Falsehood, double that to 8.
“Xerez the Mad! Ha! He hates that name but it fits. Yeah, he has two other apprentices – my brother and young Chuz, the wonderkind.
“He’s been getting more ambitious since that slave he was so in love with died and her son ran off. Master’s gotten his tower together and started making more bids for power in the Keep.
“The job’s good, you know? I get to learn magic, got me and my brother off the Zhentil Keep streets and learning a trade that doesn’t involve him holding someone’s legs while I knife them for their coppers. And…I get to fly all over Faerun doing Bane’s trade.
“How about you, what got you into bounty hunting? Is that what you do? Tomb robbing? Plenty of those around, I guess…good work if you don’t mind the delving, or are you more of a steal from the adventurers after their delving’s done fellow?”
Beginner’s Luck Falsehood (Will): 1,4,5,6 – 3 successes. Three Aptitude tests down, three to go.
“Don’t worry, my stomach seems to be stronger than your beast. I’m sure I will be able to hold my food in.”
It is very hard to keep in mind that I am flying with a Zhentarim witch atop a stench=ridden monster when everywhere I look around the world seems like such a beautiful place from this vantage point. Were I on the wings of a noble creature and with Nasharel at my side, I would not want to touch the solid ground ever again.
I nod noncommittally at the story of Xerez going mad after… I can’t even repeat it to myself; I feel like I want to throw up and the foulwing is already making me feel that way enough. Love; as it that beast knew the meaning.
“As to what I do with my day,” I continue telling Reltav, "it’s complicated. I wouldn’t call myself a tomb robber or a delver, though I have done my fair share of spending time underground. I am a minstrel, or at least that is how I style myself in order to blend in with the crowds. I have been known to ply the trade of the duelist as well, which comes in handy when out on the roads of the world. Above all I am a greedy son-of-a-wyrm who mercenarily is always looking for the bigger pay-day in return.
“What can you tell me of this Elf clan, the Whitewyrms?”
When the sun goes down, Selune lights the stars across the sky. The air becomes even colder but the beauty is so stark and breathtaking that its hard to notice any discomfort.
“A star for every one of Bane’s most treasured slaves…breathtaking,” she says.
“Whitewyrms are some kind of ice elves who made pacts with dread white dragons. They’re all in the west, maybe one or two still on the Sword Coast from what we hear.”
She lands Toad in the thick forest outside of Highmoon.
“We will stay here for a while, by my star’s reckoning, it isn’t yet the fourth bell. We’ll go then. As you probably noticed, Highmoon is guarded by elven archers and I’m in no mood to risk Toad’s wings. If we’re going to head in, I’d rather leave with elves at the end of their guard shifts, just a little weary. They change guards at dawn, so, fourth bell and we’re in. Where is the tapestry stored?”
“There’s an abandoned barn not far from here. Could be a good place to put Toad while we head into Highmoon. We could find a way to waste time before the fourth bell. Whaddya say, bard? Want to find some simple pleasures with a witch from the big, bad Zhentil Keep?”
There is something about this witch that I find strangely fascinating; it might be her unapologetic and matter-of-fact acceptance of the ways of the Keep in her life. Confidence can be very appealing. And in all honesty, I find it disturbing that I am not reacting as strongly in opposition as I thought I would.
“Flattered as I am at your offer, (dammit, Hal, you don’t have to be a charmer with every woman) I am spoken for and I take such vows seriously.”
I know well the barn she speaks of; ironically it is just a couple hundred yards away from my own cottage. “Mind if I ask a somewhat personal question?,” I say, though I really don’t wait for her answer before continuing. “I understand a life of rough pragmatism in the face of a tough childhood, as growing up in Zhentil Keep is like—your well-constructed propaganda of the Keep as the inheritor of Myth Drannor notwithstanding, and without presuming any knowledge of your life—but I do not understand the acceptance or continuation of practices held by many, or perhaps even most, as oppressive or downright evil in some cases.”
Realizing that I’m slipping out of character a little, I quickly try to salvage things. “I mean, I myself have been an indirect party to such acts at times; I cannot claim total ignorance. But I do try to navigate the rough waters of life by some sort of moral compass, however skewed to my realities it may be. I do abhor wanton murder and have strong opinions about slavery in the general sense of the practice (Cursed honest tongue!) even if sometimes I have been willing to look the other way for a nice purse of gold.”
Hal, SHUT UP! I scream at myself in my head as we lead the foulwing into the abandoned barn.
She genuinely looks amazed, takes off her helm and smiles as if she is witnessing something quaint. She takes the tack off of the foulwing, letting it move without its saddle strapped to its back. Toad immediately stretches its wings and makes a croaking sound that is new to you, perhaps a noise showing pleasure.
“Bane’s Unholy Black Hand! Are you a paladin? Are you going to use your True Faith to turn me into ashes? Your moral code is cute, Hal.
“Arcane science tells us that there are planes made up of positive and negative energy and that these energies have an effect on our flesh. Too much positive energy? Causes us to dissolve. ‘Ah,’ the lawful and the good point out, ‘but that is dissolving into the heavens.’ To the hells with them. They can keep their heavens.
“If someone captures me, has the power and can gain more profit in keeping me as their servant than letting me be free – I will be a slave. That isn’t an opinion; that is just fact and its true from here to the farthest demi-plane.
“I have allied myself with those who have power and therefor, I’m not a slave. So be it.
“But tell me this, Hal. How is it that you happen to have the same name as Xerez’s slave that got away all those years ago? How is it that you have the orange eyes the Whitewyrm’s inherited from a dalliance with an ancient White Dragon named Dawn’s Claw for his orange eyes that stood out against his white scales.
“Tell me this, noble bard, how badly do you want to kill Xerez and are you willing to get into bed, so to speak, with an unapologetic Zhentilar witch to do it?”
She stands in front of you, at the doorway of the abandoned barn, hands on her spear, breathless in anticipation of how you will react. The witch is prepared to kill, kiss or conspire.
“I was beginning to wonder if my eyes had turned a different color over my stay with the orcs. They never seemed to have made the connection.
“I bear the same name because it is me, my dear Zhent witch.” I really need to work on my lying abilities… Oddly enough, I don’t feel threatened, though by now I am quite sure that something has turned me into a reckless fool now that destiny has put me on the path to revenge.
“Fifteen years ago my mother sacrificed herself to allow me to escape Xerez’s dungeons, something for which one day the Mad Wizard must pay. I find the notion of the bastard ‘loving’ anyone laughable, though I will not even attempt to figure out what goes on in his head. So, indeed, I am Hal Stephaln, son of Ariadne Stephaln of Highmoon, free man. As for my Whitewyrm heritage, that is as much a mystery to me as to anyone else, therefore I cannot answer any questions beyond the fact that one of the clan is my father.”
I study the witch-rider in front of me; her armor, her spear, her dark hair, the steely look on her face born from the acceptance of a life under Bane’s eye. I should loathe this woman on principle, but I don’t. And I cannot figure out why…
“Reltav, I am neither Priest nor Paladin, but we obviously see the world differently. I do not know what the ways of Zhentil Keep taught you but I cannot fathom it being any harder a lesson than that taught to me by the lashes of Xerez’s slave-drivers. And yet here we are, you embracing the Zhentarim ways and me reneging them.
“I have no wish to fight you, strange as that sounds to my ears. And I do stand by my vow, as I told you, so I have no intention to, as you put it, ‘get into bed’ with you.”
I let that hang in the air for a moment, a pause as noxious as the foulwing’s excrement.
“That said, Harper nor Knight am I, so the utter destruction of the Zhentarim is not my ultimate goal: the death of Xerez is. And in this goal, you can be of help. You stand to gain as well by the removal of your master. And after all, is this not Bane’s way?”
Out of the frying pan…
In a deft, practiced motion she draws a black dagger from her hip, removes her glove and cuts her hand.
“I vow to murder Xerez if you, Hal Whitewyrm, son of Adriane, will swear with your blood and before Seven Powers to take part in the killing of Xerez the Mad because he is too weak to hold on to his power and too mad to be of any use. This blood represents the blood in my veins that gives me the power to take from his weakness. This blood represents the blood we will spill on our way to his demise.”
She squeezes blood onto the ground for each Power she invokes.
“I call on Mask, Lord of Shadows, to make our approach cunning and full of deceit. I call on the Maiden of Pain to help us overcome our wounds so that we might complete our task. I call on Old Lord Skull to come swiftly for Xerez’s soul and take him to a suitable Hell. I call on Bhaal to watch over our murder and see that it is swift and merciless. I call on Tyr, even if I find myself at odds with Him most days, Grimjaws must know that our target has it coming. I call on Tymora, because a little luck never hurts. And I call on Bane, Lord of the Black Hand, to give me all Xerez has, all that is within my power to take from him by force and will.”
She holds a bloody hand out to you, offering you her knife in the other hand.
“Make your cut and choose your Seven Powers, Whitewyrm. Let’s spill some blood and be on our way to spill more.”
As if the surrounding forest has quieted so that the deities might hear you better, the barn is silent.
Yes, this is a big deal and there are mechanics to help. Every Power you announce will be a Call-on for one roll while on this quest. The call-on will be within that deity’s sphere of influence.
I take the knife from Reltav and, with the same grim determination that once kept me going with the sole purpose of surviving and finding a way to live in order to once reach this day, I slash the palm of my right hand, letting the blood flow to power my vow to the Seven Powers.
“I call on Shevarash, the Night Hunter, to bless this hunt for vengeance. I call on Tyr the Even Handed to grant my right to seek justice by any means. I call on Labelas Enoreth, the Sage at Sunset, to grant me the wisdom of the Elves in my moment of choice as I hunt for Xerez. I call on the Foehammer, god of Brother Vhelt Marrim who now marches at his side, to guide my sword to strike true and deep upon the flesh of my enemy. I call on Tymora because the beautiful bitch owes me and I know she can lead me to victory. I call on Ilmater, The One Who Endures, to grant me the endurance to keep death from completing my righteous goal. And I call on Corellon Larethian, Ruler of the Seldarine, Elf-Father, to bless my hunt for the murderer of my human mother, who was beloved of one of his children, and thus bore me, Tel’Quessir and Man alike.”
My mixed blood spilled on the ground, I shake Reltav’s hand, our bloods mingling, sealing the deal we have just made, empowering the vows to the Seven Powers.
And may I be forgiven at the end of time for my transgression, but as the folk saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend—at least until our mutual enemy is dead.
End of Chapter III